Bad Jews, a somewhat provocatively titled, black comedy by US playwright, Joshua Harmon, is about identity, family and legacy. A work that’s aiming to reflect the contemporary world and highlight the struggles a younger generation of twenty-somethings have with grief – in this instance, the death of their Holocaust survivor, Poppy – and ultimately, their individual commitment to their faith and how they intend to carry on those traditions and histories of their ancestors.
Set in a cramped apartment in Manhattan, it focuses on some very Jewish themes – the Holocaust and marrying outside the religion and yet is still relatable, given the universal themes of grief and family, responsibility, assimilation and authenticity, to those of us outside the Jewish faith.
The catalyst for this tense and brutally honest comic-drama is a chai, a pendant. A Hebrew symbol for life worn on a gold chain by Poppy, and kept hidden for two years under his tongue in defiance, while in a concentration camp, and then worn proudly, in his new life, in the United States. These bad Jews are the two cousins who viciously (both in the literal and physical sense) claim their stake to this heirloom, the night after the funeral, with the third cousin adamant of “not wanting to get in the middle of this.”
“Super” Jew, Daphna Feygenbaum, is planning on immigrating to Israel, marrying her Israeli boyfriend and studying the “Torah with a great vegan female rabbi.” She’s extremely self-assured, intimidating, vindictive and irrational and as Harmon apparently specified in his casting attributes, 2/3 body 1/3 hair. Hair that screams: Jew. Maria Angelico was perfectly cast. In all attributes.
Liam Haber, is Daphna’s (or rather Diane, as he sarcastically refers to her) cousin and is a self-described “Bad Jew”. An Asian studies Ph.D. student who met his shiksa (gentile) girlfriend, Melody, on match.com (much to Daphna’s amusement and derision). For me, Simon Corfield’s portrayal admirably captured the angst and frustration accompanying the bad behaviour. I particularly liked his smothering pillow role-playing.
Jonah Haber, Liam’s youngerbrother, is a far less eloquent sophomore but with more heart. Who finds his own awkwardly beautiful, fitting tribute to Poppy, with Matt Whitty’s last scene tender and perceptive, and drawing gasps from the audience (me included).
And Anna Burgess’s Melody, Liam’s blonde girlfriend, who just wanted to like everyone and for everybody to like her; radiated a sweetness, vulnerability and childlike naivety that was both endearing and amusing.
Bad Jews is a 90-minute play with thought provoking, abrasive and incredibly well written dialogue, and one that quite frankly, left me floored.