A Californian Teaches NY Something About Jewishness

Special Features   A Californian Teaches NY Something About Jewishness
In Off-Broadway's Boychick, Richard Kline takes a spiritual journey to discover his heritage.

In Off-Broadway's Boychick, Richard Kline takes a spiritual journey to discover his heritage.

Once upon a time in Jackson Heights, N.Y., there lived an 11-year-old Little League baseball player named Richard Klein. This baseball player, when he grew up and became an actor, had to change his name to Richard Kline because there already was another actor named Richard Klein.

And what position did you play, Richard, as a Little Leaguer?

"The same position as in Boychik. As a matter of fact," Kline said, "I had them change it from center fielder. I said: 'Fellows, if you want me to resonate in this part, change it from center fielder to -- well, I'm not going to disclose it to the world, but put it this way: My boyhood idol was Phil Rizzuto."

Richard Kline, the California-based grownup, is a very good actor indeed. He appeared on Broadway as Buddy Fidler, the swagger-sticking Hollywood producer of City of Angels, or maybe you've seen him over the seasons as Larry Dallas of TV's "Three's Company," or up at the Goodspeed Opera House quite recently as Jeeves, the pluperfect butler, in By Jeeves, Andrew Lloyd Webber's take on P.G. Wodehouse. Right at the moment, as it happens, you can see him at Off-Broadway's Theatre Four as Lawrence Levin, the only visible character of Boychik, a play by Richard W. Krevolin. This Larry Levin, one-time Little Leaguer, speaks the whole piece, which once used to be called Yahrzeit and is about Larry himself, both as an adult and as a kid, and about his father the cloudy-headed Talmudic scholar and his mother, the agnostic-verging-on-atheistic Communist, an overburdened housewife given to saying things like: "So go ahead, call the Kosher Police!"

Richard Kline shook his head in forceful negative.

"My father was not that," he said. "There is absolutely no parallel. We were High Holy Day Jews [only]. My father kept his identity in a very low-profile way as a Lexington Avenue butcher with well-to-do clients like Henry Fonda, Jack Bouvier, Harriet Van Horne. It's my mother, who came from Minsk, who was an observing Jew. So the situation in real life is reversed.

"My own recrudescence as a Jew really stems from my daughter Colby's going to a Jewish day school and singing in the choir at Temple every Friday night."

Kline, who had been doing staged readings of the play at temples and universities on the West Coast, in Oklahoma City and Florida "my weekend annuity" was among those who thought its title should be changed from Yahrzeit (roughly "in memory of the dead") to Boychik. (roughly, "sonny boy") "I lobbied for it."

Yahrzeit or Boychik, it "strikes a very responsive chord in me, so it's not a task, I don't feel I'm performing it." Jeeves, done in the late fall under the direction of Alan Ayckbourn, who wrote its book and lyrics, "is really a farce set to music, very untypical for Sir Andrew; a souffle one false note and it falls. You basically work from the outside in a British notion to begin with. Whereas Boychik is kishkas, the guts."

Does Wodehouse's Jeeves have a first name, by the way?

Long pause. Long thought. "No. He's right up there with Cher and Capuchin." And chutzpah.

-- By Jerry Tallmer

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