I recently went to see Bad Jews at the Arts Theatre in London. It is the story of a 4 20-somethings staying the night in an apartment in Manhattan after the death of their beloved grandfather, a Holocaust survivor. For me the story is so much more than a matter of faith or culture, it highlights issues of grief and family divides.
The set is beautifully intricate and simple at the same time. The décor is that of an upmarket New York studio apartment with all the chaos you would expect for college aged adults being forced to stay together in what is essentially one room. No detail is forgotten- dirty plates under the bed, a blow up bed, an empty tube of Pringles on the floor, it is the perfect setting. The play opens with Daphna and Jonah in a room after the funeral of their grandfather; Jonah on the bed playing on a games console and Daphna, appearing from the bathroom, busying herself by tidying. It is obvious from their dynamic that she is the older of the two. She is so very dominant and forthright which is great to see in a female protagonist. Jonah, is a little quiet and shy. They are awaiting the arrival of Liam, Jonah’s older brother from a ski trip in Aspen. Daphna is upset as she states that the funeral has already happened and is upset that Liam could not be bothered to bring himself back from his trip in time. She has the type of personality that many would find uncomfortable in a woman- overly combative and almost neurotic. Joshua Harmon, the playwright can be quoted as saying that “If Daphna were a man, no one would have a problem with her”, which is definitely something I can agree with. For me, she is a breath of fresh air.
The theme of Judaism is continuous throughout the play however I personally wouldn’t say that it is the key theme. I like that there is a cultural struggle between Daphna, from a middle class family, who after a summer in Israel has decided to take her religion more seriously; and Liam and Jonah, whose parents are wealthy and are more liberal in their beliefs.
We see Liam arrive in the middle of the night, accompanied by Melody, his non-Jewish girlfriend, who is the epitome of a All American Girl. She is sweet and softly spoken and merely wants to support her boyfriend through this family tragedy. The contrast between her character and Daphna is really interesting to watch as Daphna, with her sharp wit and quick tongue quickly sets her sights on the more gentle and mildly mannered Melody. The one liners in the play are phenomenal and without giving away any of the jokes let’s just say that even in times of sorrow, great humour can be found.
There is obvious contempt between Liam and Daphna and they both use Jonah in a way that leaves him pretty lost between these 2 larger than life personalities. The arguments, emotions and power struggles between the characters are only emphasised by the fact that the majority of the play happens inside the 4 walls of the apartment. There are moments of hysterical laughter intertwined with dark moments of silence and sadness, making for an emotional rollercoaster.
I really enjoyed the play and the fact that there is no intermission adds to the pace. I feel that some of the depth and flow of the storyline would be lost if there were a break. The overall experience is fantastic from the quirky café front of house, to the intimacy of the theatre size. Everything just works so well. This is a great comedy and the fact that the storyline brings up some rather controversial topics and manages to deal with them in a tasteful way is a true credit to the writer and director.
Make sure to book your tickets at: http://www.lovetheatre.com/tickets/4198/Bad-Jews-Arts-Theatre where the play will be running until May 30th.
Photo Credits: Robert Workman