Everyone knows families where siblings no longer speak after an inheritance slights one child in favor of another. Joshua Harmon’s BAD JEWS coalesces around a certain necklace that two grandchildren covet—but the play really exists to explore what being Jewish means to a generation twice removed from the Holocaust.
Director Rebecca Bradshaw’s production for SpeakEasy Stage Company (through Nov. 29th) is lively and explosive, with over the top performances from Allison McCartan and Victor Shopov as warring cousins and lovely, less showy turns for Alex Marz and Gillian Mariner Gordon as the innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. I wouldn’t call it a comedy although it’s billed as one.
Harmon’s hot button issue of what comprises religious practice (Is someone really Jewish who doesn’t observe the Torah?) isn’t so much discussed as it is hurled about like a loose grenade. Mc Cartin’s Daphna insists she should inherit her grandfather’s “chai” because she cares about Judaism more than her cousin, Liam, who sports a Santa hat on Facebook and didn’t make it to the funeral. (As it turns out, he, too, has reason to want it.) The problem is that Harmon has placed both arguments in the mouths of such disagreeable characters.
Liam accuses Daphna of being a fanatic and we’re off to the races with sardonic insults, past transgressions and endless recriminations. The more interesting characters are Liam’s younger brother who tries to avoid taking sides and Liam’s blond, blue eyed, non-Jewish girlfriend. When the vitriol gets out of hand, it’s she who is the peacemaker. What left me puzzled is the playwright’s left field ending, which has the girlfriend acting completely out of character, the character Harmon himself went to such pains to create. The only way this abrupt change would work is if the girl had been feigning sweetness all along, and in this production at least, she hasn’t.