Joshua Harmon’s play Bad Jews is set in a New York studio apartment with a view of the Brooklyn river glimpsed from the bathroom. Brothers Liam and Jonah “own” the flat, bought by their immensely wealthy parents who live in the same building.
This is a play that asks very difficult questions about who we are, what our ethnic roots say about us and how we can retain our cultural or religious traditions in a multi-cultural and largely secular society. Should we even try to?
It offers no answers or solutions but it will make you laugh – a lot.
It will also make you wince at the visceral emotions that explode across the stage as three young people with an inescapable shared background confront the problems of choosing to live in the wider “American” world.
The play is set on one day, after the funeral of a beloved grandfather, Holocaust survivor Poppy. Jonah and his cousin Daphna are staying in the one-roomed flat, awaiting the arrival of Liam, who was “unable” to get to the burial as he was on a skiing holiday in Aspen and lost his phone.
He arrives with a new girlfriend in tow. She is Melody, a blonde WASP failed opera graduate from Delaware.
Liam and Daphna (who he calls Diana) have been daggers drawn for years, and through them the jealousies and conflicts of their families are played out in an often hilarious but bitterly felt 90 minutes.
Liam is studying the cultural traditions of Japan for his PhD.
Daphna is heading for her cultural homeland in Israel, anxious to join her soldier boyfriend and fight. Fighting’s what she’s about, and verbally she is very VERY good at it.
Liam professes atheism, but throws in constant references to himself as a Jew, often as a bad Jew.
As the news focusses on Gaza and the age-old conflict over the Jewish and Palestinian homeland and the clash of two cultures and religions with a shared origin, this play could not be more appropriate or timely, laying out the arguments and certainties in a darkly comic but telling way.
The four actors, particularly Jenna Augen’s Daphna and Ilan Goodman (so recently seen in a very different role in Intimate Apparel at the Ustinov) as Liam, bring the play to vivid and often shocking life in the intimate setting of the studio theatre.
Joe Coen suppresses all his convictions until the end, and Gina Bramhil’s wonderfully prissy moment skewers the selfishness of the new American young.
Bad Jews is another excellent play at the Ustinov, whose reputation grows with every new production.
It is on until 30th August.
Photographs by Nobby Clark