It has been a long time since Broadway had a comedy so flush with Jewish-mother jokes and giddy about finding synonyms for breasts. Many decades have passed since the sound of an offstage toilet flushing was intended as a sure source of hilarity. And we have lived at least as long, some of us happily and without being told twice, the old joke about knocking on "faux wood."
If anyone could get away with such a throwback, it is Larry David. And from the delighted laughter and the boggling box-office advances for his first play, "Fish in the Dark," masses have yearned to return to a form that isn't even popular in whatever's left of the dinner-theater circuit.
But, really, the draw is David himself, full of trademark grandiosity and self-loathing, that oddly charming mix of excruciating self-consciousness and diffident selfishness. David, beloved co-creator of the outlandishly influential "Seinfeld" and star of his own close-to-the-bone HBO psychodrama comedy, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," is making his Broadway debut as a fellow comfortably similar to his TV persona.
Still, don't expect a hip, retro, wry spin on the old-time formula. This is a comedy which, despite the occasional amusing twist, could have been written by someone who hasn't seen a play since the early days of Neil Simon.
David plays Norman Drexel, a urinal manufacturer (yes, more toilet jokes), dealing with the deathbed wishes of his father (Jerry Adler); the future of his truculent mother (Jayne Houdyshell); his wife (Rita Wilson), who loathes his mother; his hotshot lawyer brother (Ben Shenkman) and the Jessica Rabbit of a date (Jenn Lyon) he brings to the hospital; the stereotypical Hispanic house cleaner with a secret (Rosie Perez); his hotheaded uncle (Lewis J. Stadlen); his grasping aunt (Marylouise Burke); her unpopular husband (Kenneth Tigar) who wants the dead man's Rolex, plus assorted offspring and doctors.
As you can see, this is far from a one-man show and it is cast with pros -- old-timers and such young ones as Jake Cannavale, who somehow keeps his dignity as a Hispanic stud. Tony-winning Anna D. Shapiro ("August: Osage County") does what she can to make familiar family bickering and gallows humor twinkle along as if nobody had ever hollered this before. Genuinely fresh is Todd Rosenthal's set, which includes a death-certificate scrim and a curtain fish that winks.
But then there is David, an endearing, querulous beanpole, leaning back on his skinny hips and doing what fans have come to see him do, only with bigger arm gestures. Everyone around me seemed to be having a wonderful time. Wish I were there.