The night of their grandfather’s funeral, three Jewish cousins (and one of their girlfriends) are spending the night together in a small New York apartment. In the midst of grief, their strained relationships are simmering…
Joshua Harmon’s script is well crafted; strongly structured with very clear, well-written characters. Skillful exposition is cloaked in dialogue and it allows the audience to very quickly get a sense of the characters’ long and complicated relationships.
Liam (Simon Corfield) is essentially secular and happy to make his own path in life and distance himself from his Jewish heritage. He clashes quite spectacularly with his feisty cousin Daphna (Maria Angelico) who feels the duty to carry on the Jewish faith very strongly. There are moments of extraordinary acting – the tense, complicated relationship between these two was believably one of intense hate/rivalry, honed to an art over many years. In the face of this, the discomfort of the other two characters, Melody and Jonah (Anna Burgess, Matt Whitty), was palpable.
That said, at moments the acting felt overdone, although I did speak to a couple of people after the show who said they knew people exactly like those characters. It may ring more true to other people. The play certainly truthfully captures the ability in which grieving people go to from extreme, almost hysterical joy, to somber silence or crying. Gary Abrahams’ direction seamlessly navigates through these highs and lows. However, because the play is so emotionally charged, some of the big beats early in the play are hit a little too hard, which means that when the true crescendo of the piece comes, the actors don’t have anywhere to go.
The set (a small apartment with views over the Hudson from the bathroom) was extremely detailed and successfully captured an almost claustrophobic feeling which had the characters literally tripping over each other. This cloistered feeling enhanced the overall intense drama of the play. I confess I was so engrossed in the story that I didn’t give much (read: any) thought to the lighting- which is about as a high a praise as I can give. Effective lighting should go unnoticed.
Although Bad Jews likens itself to The Book of Mormon, it doesn’t take (many) cracks at religion, and you certainly don’t need to know anything of Judaism to be entertained or to follow the story. It is more a story about dealing with grief, and the different ways we cope with it- how we honor loved ones (holding on to their belongings, continuing their traditions), and the place that family and tradition have in our lives. It raises many questions: do we continue religion because we feel we must for our family’s sake, or because we have genuine faith? What is being authentic to ourselves? To what extent should we defer to the wishes of our families, and to what extent do we live for ourselves? Like all good theatre, it doesn’t prescribe the answers.
You’ll cringe, you’ll laugh, you may tear up if you have experienced loss, but this show is more caustic than hilarious. Overall, it is extremely realistic, and it leaves you feeling emotionally drained like you have been dropped into an intense family affair for an hour and a half.
Bad Jews will play at the QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre till July 31.