Three siblings (cousins) come together to mourn the passing of their grandfather. Should it be a time of reflection, some shared comfort or just a family coming together to heal? No, no, no… absolutely not. This Jewish family comes together and it’s a brawl, it’s a shouting match and a battle royale between tradition and modernity, one’s faith versus the self.
Daphna, Jonah and Liam are cousins who are forced into a small New York West End apartment that Jonah’s rich parents bought their son, just in case he needed a place to stay in New York City. Daphna and her self-righteous social/cultural/personal morality finds this despicable and tells Jonah as such. However, the real war is not between Jonah and Daphna. In Jonah, Daphna has a rather quiet, passive and relatively friendly cousin. It’s when the other cousin Liam shows up with his new girlfriend Melodie from Delaware, that the no holds barred fighting begins.
Daphna and Liam’s animosity runs long and deep. They have always been at odds (from some of the history we become privy to during the play). Daphna abhors Liam’s sense of patriarchal, white-centric modern entitlement and Liam is sure that all Daphna knows or can do is seek attention, and her religious attachments and proclamations of Jewish saintliness are all a facade, waiting to blow up in her face.
The play is, for the most part, banter between these two. Daphna (Sarah Segal-Lazar) steals the show with her boisterous, effectively assertive, brilliantly over the top performance, as she plays to reclaim title and possession to a family heirloom that belonged to her grandfather.
Liam (Jamie Elman), her equal in scream-time and performance, has possession of the family heirloom, which he claims to have inherited from his grandfather. He plays his part as Daphna’s modern ideological adversary with ease and finesse. Also, actors Victoria Diamond playing Melodie and Jake Goldsbie as Jonah are competent in their supporting roles.
The history behind the heirloom and its inheritance is at the core of the play. Liam wishes to use it to ask Melodie to marry him and share the amazing story of the trials and tribulations it witnessed. Daphna believes that her deep connection to the Jewish faith and its unique solitariness in the family allows her unquestioned claim on the heirloom. However, the real clash between Liam and Daphna is about the true nature of their Jewish identity. The play attempts to contextualize the value and urgent need not to let modern capitalism completely whitewash the treasured, ancient heritage of a people. Though very unique in this context, we find this battle to preserve history pretty much all over the world.
No matter which side of the argument you may be (cultural protectionism vs. libertarian capitalist/modernity), Bad Jews uses family rhetoric to answer these questions about the shape and future of our various cultures and traditions.
Writer Joshua Harmon accomplishes a lot with exaggerated humour and rhetoric. He explores how two young people approach their shared tradition and heritage, while one seeks affirmation by being called a ‘Bad Jew’, the other hopes that whatever shared future they have, finds space for a sense of belonging for their community. My only critique of the play is that it doesn’t attempt to dig deep into what identity really means and while veiled references to colonization and cultural imperialism are made, there is no real (serious) discourse around these potent issues.
Watch Bad Jews for ninety minutes of entertaining writing and acting, that makes you laugh and hopefully will make you think.
Bad Jews is at the Segal Centre (5170 Côte-Ste-Catherine) until May 29, 2016. For tickets, click HERE. $39