bad jews cast

Happy families: Ilan Goodman (left) as Liam, Ailsa Joy as Daphna, Jos Slovick as Jonah and, in the process of being throttled, Antonia Kinlay as Melody.

 Bad Jews

The New Alexandra Theatre

*****

SO what does it mean to be Jewish in a modern world . . . already.

Is it a religion perhaps, after all Judaism is one of the oldest monotheistic religions on earth, going back 3,500 years?

Or is it perhaps more than that; a way of life, or maybe a tradition or a history or an identity, where you come from – like saying you are a Lancastrian? Is it a culture, or even a race?

Whatever it is Joshua Harmon’s play visits the avenues of Jewishness and indeed family in a deliciously barbed comedy which in truth is more a drama with laughs – and lots of them – set in the aftermath of Poppy’s funeral.

Poppy was the patriarch of a successful New York Jewish family, a holocaust survivor, the only member of his family to come out of the death camps alive, who came to the USA penniless with nothing but a family heirloom, a gold Chai, the Jewish symbol for life, on a gold chain around his neck. It was a heirloom he had hidden for two years in a concentration camp.

The family have gathered, which at funerals is not always a good thing, which means three twenty-something cousins, Poppy’s grandchildren, are lumped together in a Manhattan studio apartment bought for Jonah by his parents – told you the family were successful.

There is cousin Daphna, who wears her Jewishness on her sleeve like a badge of honour, then at the other end of the scale there is Jonah’s older brother Liam, who is Jewish by birth and not much else if he can avoid it.

And in the middle and desperate to stay out of the bickering and verbal sparring of his brother and cousin is Jonah.

Then to add to the mayhem Liam arrives back from a skiing holiday in Aspen – too late for the funeral - with his fiancée Melody in tow, a non-Jewish, blonde, blue-eyed, mom’s apple pie, all-American girl with perfect teeth, unblemished skin, pleasing smile and limited intellect.

Ddaphnaaphna has a tongue which can clinically cut through and slice up any conversation with a surgeon’s precision. She could start an argument with an empty bucket and is beautifully played by Ailsa Joy who puts the flesh on her character so well we actually care about her despite her constant sniping and bickering. Behind Daphna's hard, prickly front, you feel, is a sadness and a vulnerability.

She tells everyone she has a boyfriend in the Israeli army, who no one has met - and is off to live in Israel in the summer – and she wants Poppy’s Chai because of its religious and Jewish significance. And, be warned, she is is ready to launch into long tirades, brilliantly delivered, at the drop of a kippah, all delivered at machine-gun pace.

Ailsa Joy as Daphna winding up into a full flow tirade

Liam you feel is probably a laid-back and oh so cool man about town . . . except when Daphna arrives in the same town when he becomes a gibbering wreck, thus we find him uptight and manic in a wonderful performance from Ilan Goodman. His rant against Daphna while she is banished to the bathroom to brush her hair, is worthy of Basil Fawlty: oh, and, unknown to Daphna, Liam already has the Chai and is not going to give it up.

Jonah is the quiet one, and Jos Slovick manages what is a deceptively difficult role superbly. While Daphna and Liam charge around with angry speeches and diatribes, he has to melt into the background, staying out of it, his face and body language alone telling his side of the story. And it is a story we know nothing about until the final, dramatic moving moment as the lights fade and the play drifts into memory.

Then there is Melody, blonde, blue-eyed and with German ancestry which goes down well with Daphna, the UberJew as Liam describes her.

Melody, played perfectly by Antonia Kinley, is sweet, none too bright, and is no match for Daphna, She has a degree in opera so, naturally, Daphna gets her to sing and her rendition of Summertime is perhaps not quite what Mr Gershwin had in mind. Her phrasing, intonation and exaggerated trained voice pronunciation had an . . . individual feel about them to create a comedy highlight. One suspects Miss Kinley must be a more than decent singer to sing badly that well, as for Melody . . . she is merely an observer on a family battleground, collateral damage. She is trying to fit but has no idea where or how and is only making things worse.

Despite all the squabbling and bickering though this is not about hatred, after all the families grew up together and just for a moment the happy times are remembered as the trio fall about laughing reminiscing about a calamitous childhood outing to a restaurant.

This is a clash about passion, about feelings and identity, and, perhaps most of all about grief and a lost, much loved  grandfather that all three want to remember in their own, very personal way.

It is very funny, excruciatingly so at times, with some wonderful comic moments, yet at times is also thoughtful and moving.

Director Michael Longhurst keeps things rolling along at a lively pace yet the cast skilfully recognise the dramatic power of pauses, the stifling suspense of silence, all done with terrific instinctive timing, a theatre craft you can never teach or rehearse.

Richard Kent’s excellent simple set of the claustrophobic apartment, with a view of the Hudson from the bathroom, and the adjoining hallway all add to the crowded intimacy. There is some bad language and the C word is lobbed in a couple of times as a dramatic hand grenade, but it is not gratuitous swearing and is all in the context of this beautifully written, crafted and acted play

It runs for an hour and 45 minutes without interval – but it is so engrossing you would never know it. Quality drama which is well worth seeing. To 07-05-15

Roger Clarke

05-16 

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