THEATER REVIEW : A Sentimental 'Yahrzeit' in Santa Monica

Richard W. Krevolin's "Yahrzeit" takes its name from the Jewish custom of honoring a loved one on the anniversary of his or her death. Mourners are supposed to light a 24-hour candle and say kaddish, a prayer for the dead.

In this unabashedly sentimental monologue at the Santa Monica Playhouse, the candle is borne aloft by a likable yuppie named Lawrence (Paul Kreppel), who has been putting off "yahrzeit" for his late father, a Holocaust survivor who played the fiddle, read the Talmud in his underwear and relished stale jokes.

What follows is an easily digestible confection of schmaltz and shtick, as the son reminisces aloud while rummaging in the old man's safe-deposit box. Guilt-ridden Baby Boomers with aging parents will no doubt appreciate the upshot: Lawrence's childhood embarrassment at his father's awkwardness gradually mellows into deep respect for dad's self-possession and humility.

The script has a habit of pushing a good thing too far. After noting that his father admired Ping-Pong balls because they "endure suffering and survive," Lawrence recounts a hard-fought table tennis match in which he finally beat his dad but marred the victory dance by accidentally stepping on and crushing one of the prized balls. Talk about crashing symbols.

Kreppel, a nimble and engaging comic actor, does a fine job with the various Yiddish accents, but under Paul Linke's direction strains just a bit too hard to be the sympathetic mensch.

* "Yahrzeit," Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th St., Santa Monica. Saturdays, 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., Sundays, 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Ends May 7. $20.50. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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