Strollers and sippy cups are not what one usually associates with the self-obsessed George Costanza of “Seinfeld.” This is, after all, the guy who, in one episode, knocked a roomful of birthday-partying children out of his way to escape a blaze. Costanza portrayer Jason Alexander, however, seems perfectly comfortable among the young and the restless.
And at the Houston Jewish Book & Arts Fair at the Houston JCC this past Sunday, the feeling seemed mutual. Dozens of excited kids, from toddlers to preteens, showed up, schlepping their parents behind them — or was it the other way around? — to hear Alexander read his children’s book, “Dad, Are You the Tooth Fairy?”
Alexander said that his older son, Gabriel, was the inspiration for the book, which was published earlier this year. On the cusp of losing another tooth, Gabriel wondered if there really was a tooth fairy or if Dad and Mom were leaving money under his pillow. Torn between wanting to tell the truth and keeping the magic alive, Alexander spun a tale that did both.
In the book, fairies are real but extinct. They have vanished along with the elves, wizards and unicorns that once roamed the earth. But before departing, the tooth fairies gave loving instructions to those left behind.
Reading “with expression,” as they used to say, and with plenty of asides, Alexander made sure to show the book’s pictures — “That’s me in my fantasized hair version,” he said — and remained unruffled as parents gave out crackers and children dropped bottles on the floor, and even as one little boy wailed. (“A critic in the corner!” the author quipped.)
Alexander appeared again later that day to close out the two-week annual fair. Almost 1,000 people came out to see him perform in a show billed as a presentation about his life and career.
He opened by telling the story of the first time he was invited to speak at a Houston Jewish event. “I was expecting an audience of barely a minyan,” he said to knowing laughs. Discovering that Houston has a thriving Jewish community (40,000-plus), he went back to Los Angeles, he said, and wrote a country-flavored song called “Jews in Texas.” “Cuddle up and get your lighters ready!” he advised before launching into a ballad about having mishpucha in Abilene and celebrating Purim in Plano.
Then Alexander riffed on other authors who had appeared at the fair, and he talked about growing up as overweight Jason Greenspan in New Jersey, learning how to be funny by listening to comedy records and falling into acting.
Eventually the multitalented Alexander appeared on the Great White Way, where he won a Tony Award for his role in “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.” He broke out in film as the slimy lawyer in “Pretty Woman,” and soon after started playing the loser George on a show about nothing that soon became quite something.
“Do you like to be called George?” a kid piped up earlier in the day. “I don’t mind,” Alexander answered, “but sometimes I don’t turn around, because maybe they’re calling someone who really is George.”
And one thing is for sure: Alexander is no George.