The title screams for attention. And through most of Joshua Harmon’s 90-minute comedy/drama, two cousins scream at each other. To each, the other deserves the play’s title.
Liam Haber says his cousin Daphna has a “need to lash out at anyone who makes [her] feel insecure.” And he’s right. And, boy, does she ever.
Daphna counters by saying Liam abandoned his Jewish roots (he plans to marry blond Melody, a shiksa). He didn’t even come to grandfather Poppy’s funeral; said he lost his cell phone at Aspen. She’s right.
If Liam and Daphna played rock, paper, scissors, each would sneak in an automatic weapon.
Bad Jews goes over the top and under the bottom. Unleashing swarms of slurs, Liam and Daphna try to shred each other. They can’t stop with making a point. They dig deeper, as if needing to inter the shards that remain.
At issue is Poppy’s chai, a gold medallion on a chain he kept under his tongue throughout the Holocaust (he was his family’s only survivor). The play begins just after his funeral. Daphna wants the chai — which symbolizes “life” and “the living god” — because she’s the only observant Jew of the three candidates, the third being passive Jonah, who wants no part of it or the war that ensues.
Problem is: Liam wants to propose marriage to Melody with the chai instead of a ring. He claims Poppy said it’s his.
So, who is most deserving? Though thick with rancor and neurotic overkill, each has a strong case.
Maybe King Solomon should threaten to divide the chai in two?
The playwright has a knack for stream-(scream?)of-consciousness invective. And the play is funny. How funny depends on how much one enjoys hearing people try to atomize each other.
Beneath the fuming, the playwright raises a crucial question: what to do with the past? In many ways, Liam’s abandoning his religion. Daphna abhors assimilation. She holds out for the traditions of her faith and for vital differences (without this deeply felt determination, Daphna would be a one-dimensional bullhorn).
The medallion is priceless to all four, but for four different reasons. To its credit, Cygnet’s production doesn’t hold back. Danielle Frimer (Daphna) and Josh Odsess-Rubin (Liam) have the artistic courage to be brutally unlikeable. For the most part they handled the playwright’s Mamet-like, seemingly endless monologues with skill.
Katie Sapper’s Melody, blond with a yellow sweater that makes her utterly “other,” is walled-up in stereotypes, among them a whitebread ditz. She does have the show’s best moment: a rendition of “Summertime” that would horrify the tinniest of ears.
Tom Zohar’s Jonah doesn’t say much. But his reactions and body language suggest that Jonah feels at least as deeply, if not more, than the others. Scenic design wiz Sean Fanning gives the quartet a near-claustrophobic studio apartment overlooking the Hudson River in Manhattan. It probably cost Jonah’s parents a million bucks, yet he furnishes it from a thrift store. A hide-a-bed pulled out from the sofa and two mattresses on the floor will be the sleeping quarters for the foursome.
When Jean-Paul Sartre said “hell is other people,” he only had three in mind. Bad Jews adds a fourth, which intensifies the flames even more and, at times, makes it hell to watch.
Playing through February 12