Theater Review - Bad Jews (NY)

I really disliked the title of Joshua Harmon’s new play, until I saw it. Now, after experiencing it, I understand the title and love this play. You do not have to be Jewish to enjoy Levy’s rye bread- like the ad you used to say- but I think you have to be raised Jewish to get the full nuance of  this brilliant study of youth and Judaism in all its complexities.  Daniel Aukin, who showed wonderful understanding of character in last season's “4000 Miles,”does a magnificent job here keeping up a pulsing, breathtaking pace for one hour and fifty minutes without intermission.

 

He and Harmon are lucky to have Tracee Chimo in the role of Daphna Feigenbaum! What a part!  Daphna is described by some as a monster, but she is able to evince sympathy on many different levels. A trained dancer, Chimo, dark curly hair flying straight away from her head, moves like a sail in the winds of a storm as she portrays this intense college student bent on a mission. She's staying with her cousin, Jonah, the quietly effective Philip Ettinger, at his upscale New York studio apartment bought for him by his parents; she does not waste a minute making fun of him for it, happily confessing that she comes from the poorer branch of the family. They have just attended the funeral of their grandfather “Poppy,” whom they loved. 

 

As she bounces from sofa to mattress-filled floor to kitchen stool on Lauren Helpern's aptly-crowded room lit glaringly by Mark Barton, sharp-tongued Daphna explains that because of her trip to Israel, where she met her boyfriend, and her intention to make aliyah-- that is to move to Israel permanently- she is entitled to the Chai Poppy wore around his neck. It has an emotional history. She is looking for Jonah's support but this young man begs to stay out of the discussion, not letting on that his brother, Liam, already has it. When the confrontational Liam, played well by Michael Zegen, arrives with his non-Jewish girl friend, Melody, pretty blond Molly Ranson, from skiing in Aspen, sparks fly.  He intends to give the Chai to Molly as an engagement token and also tell her how Poppy saved the golden Chai under his tongue during the Holocaust and gave it to his wife.            

 

This makes Daphna crazy; while she attacks Liam, Melody, and Noah, they respond in kind, uncovering her tales that are probably untrue. Families fight for many reasons, but for Daphna this is not just personal; she is defending the Jewish state of cultural instability. The playwright is able to inject humor, anger, and pathos into the arguments on both sides.  With so much intermarriage today, “Bad Jews,”which hasbeen extended through December 30,resonates with questions many are asking on a very strong level.  At the tiny Black Box theater in the Steinberg Center on West 46th Street.

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