"Bad Jews" at Long Wharf
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
Like kosher wine or hot dogs. you don’t have to be Jewish to thoroughly enjoy this realistic slice of life at Long Wharf Theatre. Heated, family arguments are familiar to us all. Centering around an argument over who best deserves their late grandfather’s “Chai” (a symbolic piece of jewelry) Josh Harmon’s new play, “Bad Jews,” also confronts the clashing, philosophical views of the majority of American Jews, and for better or worse, illustrates their rapid assimilation into other cultures and the loss of identifiable traditions.
The words are cleverly sharp and biting, and Oliver Butler expertly directs this wonderful cast through a series of intellectual and humorous debates, which directly hit home to many audience members.
Keilly McQuail plays “Cousin Daphna,” a sarcastic, “know it all” whose nasal accent, and facial expressions are hard to beat. A calculating snob you love to hate, Daphna feels more entitled to her grandfather’s “Chai” because, as she loudly declares to her two cousins, “I’m more of a Jew than any of you.” After all, the Vassar senior chatters on, she’s been to Israel, wants to marry an Israeli soldier, carry on the tradition, etc. etc. Little does this kinky-head realize that like American Jews, the majority of Israel’s citizens are non-religious -- although they have a strong, cultural identity. This is an important, irony to recognize -- which unfortunately was not well-brought out in this play about religious fanaticism versus the advancement of a more harmonious One World.
Micheal Steinmetz as “Liam,” presents a powerful, intellectual match against his cousin Daphna’s ultra religious, snobbish, points of view. Christy Escobar is “Melody,” Liam’s bewildered, non-Jewish girlfriend. Max Miller plays Liam’s younger brother, “Jonah,” who prefers not to get too involved in family arguments but has a hidden surprise. The play’s ending may seem unsatisfying to some, but, it’s certainly something to ponder.
A couple of elderly folks who stayed for the discussion afterwards, criticized the character “Daphna,” for being too much of a stereo-type -- which to me meant that McQuail gave an excellent interpretation. Some viewers objected to the title. For them, “Bad Jews,” implied a Jewish comedy, but this was instead a serious play based on serious subject matter. This is absolutely true!
Whatever your thoughts on this frank, controversial subject, “Bad Jews” is a thoroughly engrossing play that will certainly stimulate after-theatre discussion.
Plays thru: March 22
The review appears in “On CT & NY Theatre” March/2015