I really didn’t know what to expect when I went to the theatre in London the other evening to see Joshua Harmon’s play Bad Jews, set in a tiny studio apartment in Manhattan overlooking the Hudson River.
The play, just 90 minutes long, had been exported from the United States and was on the stage at the Ustinov Theatre, in Bath last year; now it has transferred to the St James Theatre near Victoria.
And it’s all about relationships, good and proper, and solidly squabbly. Something most families will be used to or familiar with – identity, religion, and coupled with internecine family rows. What they are about are irrelevant, but they are there for the audience to witness. Throw in some raw emotions, honest feelings, sibling relationships and paranoia and it all comes alive in one of the funniest shows I have seen in ages.
It centres on two brothers, Jonah (Joe Coen) and Liam (Ilan Goodman) and their cousin Daphna (Jenny Augen) who is in dispute about their late grandfather’s gold family heirloom from the Holocaust, which he had always worn around his neck.
Jonah stand was that he didn’t want to get involved and during the performance is either going to the fridge to quench his thirst with orange juice or water, besides concentrating on playing with his Xbox. So it is Liam, a bright, ambitious Chicago post-graduate and Daphna, a Vassar senior, who slag it out on stage in the most open manner possible, bringing their differences to the fore and venting their anger and envy that must have built up over the years.
Daphna is a religious Jew who wants to go to Rabbinical College in Israel; Liam is a secular Jew dating a non-Jew, who manages to miss his grandfather’s funeral because he dropped his mobile phone off a ski lift in Aspen. When he brings his blonde bombshell girlfriend Melody (Gina Bramhill) back from skiing to the tiny Manhattan apartment and tells Jonah – on the landing – of his plans to propose to Melody using their late grandfather’s precious medallion instead of an engagement ring, the plot gets more excitable.
Now it is clear that Liam is the “bad” Jew.
I don’t want to give any more away, but suffice it is to say, that I have never – until the very end of the play – laughed so much in the theatre.
John Nathan, writing in the Jewish Chronicle about the play, says:
“Sure it gets shouty at times – there are three Jews in one room – but never in a gratuitous way. That’s largely because Harmon’s script is so psychologically astute. He gets exactly right the kind of mutual antipathy that only Jews with different kinds of Jewishness can feel for one another.”
Nevertheless, as one person in my party remarked after the show “You certainly don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate this. We all know people like this and it could be a situation in any family of whatever religion.”
This zesty play, as I said earlier, is really about relationships, solid and true to life … not that any of the protagonists had the answer as to how they might work properly.
Surely now they should all head to Freud’s couch.
Comments are disabled for this post.