By Deena Kinarthy
Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon is a dark comedy that deals with family, loss, and keeping culture in tact that everyone can relate to. As director Matt McLaren writes, it is a play that “contains truths that cross cultural divides.” Yet the characters still explore specifically what it means to be a Jew in the modern world.
So Theatre Inconnu’s opening night production of the popular off-Broadway play got me thinking: What is a BAD JEW? What is a GOOD JEW?
As a third generation young Jewish woman myself, I could relate to the struggle each of the characters face between practicing the traditions and honoring your roots and living in a modern world. Including the topic of tattoos on the body, wearing religious symbols, and honoring your loved ones.
Appearing at times to be veiled biting social commentary, this play comes at Judaism from all sides.
Both Daphne and Liam in their own ways are zealots and extremists. Kat Taddei’s performance as Daphne, the observant cousin is played convincingly and naturally. Her character is at times extreme about her religious and cultural views and vicious towards others at times. On the opposite side of the coin is Liam (played brilliantly by Simon Basch), an extreme liberal and also vicious in his own humorous way. However, both characters deserve a degree of sympathy, as they both have valid points of view. Melody, the outside observer aka Shiksa, seems to have taken on the role of the peacekeeper in this situation, the go-between two opposing sides of an argument. Casey Austin approaches her role with grace and simplicity.
It seems as if Joshua Harmon, the playwright, is having an argument with different sides of himself through the three Jewish characters onstage- Liam is a zealot liberal, Daphne is an extreme observant Jew, and Jona ( Michael Bell) is practically silent throughout and doesn’t want to get involved.
Throughout the play, deeper metaphors of life and death course through the each of the character’s behavior, speech and the action—much of the drama is centered about the chai necklace left behind by their Poppy- a symbol of life in the Jewish faith. This symbol of life is contrasted with the occasion for their meeting and discussing the object—the funeral, or death of their beloved grandfather and Holocaust survivor.
Melody, the “outsider”, is pleasant and sweet, up until the very end of the play, where perhaps she shows a veiled nastiness, when Daphne rips the chai necklace off of Melody’s neck, and Melody screams to take her to the hospital because “it was in his mouth, it could be infected!” This insensitivity to the memory of their Poppy is surprising, since up until that moment she seemed to be the most reasonable one in the bunch.
However, that is how our loyalties shift during the play. Sympathies ebb and flow from one character to another. I found myself sympathetic to one, and dismayed at the other, only to have my sympathies switch mid- argument. Perhaps, the only constant character in the whole group is the taciturn Jona (played stoically by Michael Bell).
Overall, this was an incredibly well-executed production. One of the few criticisms, if any, is around the staging set-up on the floor. Being set so low on the ground, made it difficult for audiences in the back rows to see the stage and what was happening. Perhaps by putting a raised platform in the middle of the audience, such as was done for Theatre Inconnu’s last play Spit Delaney’s Island, one might solve the limited sightlines.
That being said, Matt McLaren’s production of Bad Jews is a quality production worthy of bringing all your friends and family to see again and again! For ticket information visit http://www.theatreinconnu.com.