Bad JewsPosted: November 18, 2013
First, let me say that I did not care for this show. Second, I should also say right off the bat that I am most definitely in the minority. Bad Jews has received rave reviews and audiences love it. My theatre buddy that evening (and fellow Jew) was my brother’s girlfriend, Allison (of Accessories by ASH), and she loved the show, too.
So what’s wrong with me you ask? Well, let’s back up a bit. We start in a fancy New York City studio with Jonah and his first cousin, Daphna (actually named Diana, but she’s super Jewish so she’s Daphna now, don’t bring it up) after their grandfather’s funeral. They are soon to be joined by Jonah’s brother, Liam, who arrives late (missing the funeral) with his Shiksa girlfriend, Melody. Tensions are immediately high, yes due to the death in the family, but primarily because Daphna is “that cousin” who gets in your face about everything. She and Liam can’t stand each other. Jonah would prefer to stay out of the drama as much as possible. As the fighting enters into the wee hours of the morning, these four characters brawl over their feelings toward Judaism, marrying outside the faith, how to best honor their grandfather, and above all who should receive Poppy’s Chai necklace that he’s had since the Holocaust.
Now I went into this play thinking I was going to see a slapstick comedy about Jews. The play does have some good laughs (there is one bit with Molly Ranson as Melody and I could hardly breathe), but this is no farce. There are serious issues being covered, and very intense words are shared. Thoughtful questions are raised and interesting perspectives put out there, but the way in which they are approached is what put me off. I want to hear these arguments but not from these people. For example, the second Liam is introduced he is a jackass through and through with no redeeming qualities. Why do we start with him there? There isn’t anywhere for him to go if he’s already so terrible.
It’s hard to watch people fight for close to two hours. It’s hard to watch unlikable people tear each other down with cruel words. Some of what these characters say is exactly that: cruel. They are bullies, pure and simple. There are two monologues in particular that are full of hateful words directed at another person in the room. Luckily there comes a point when someone steps in, but I as an audience member didn’t see why we had to watch it. Charles Isherwood calls it savage humor, and apparently it’s just not my style. I only felt a consistent sense of unease.
Maybe the discomfort I felt during the show is part of the playwright’s intention; perhaps he wants to ruffle some feathers. But instead, I felt like Jonah – stuck in the middle and not wanting to get involved.
Written by Joshua Harmon, Directed by Daniel Aukin
The Laura Pels Theatre through December 29th
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Tracee Chimo, Philip Ettinger, and Michael Zegen