Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews debuted off Broadway in 2012. The popular play, now running at Santa Rosa’s Left Edge Theatre, potently throws together three very different Jewish family members, just after the burial of their grandfather.
Daphna (Emily Kron) is intensely religious, but her two wealthy cousins, Jonah (Brady Morales-Woolery) and Liam (Dean Linnard), are less so. Liam considers himself an atheist, clearly despising Daphna’s “zealotry.” Having completely missed the funeral—he was in Aspen, skiing—Liam finally arrives with his gentile girlfriend, Melody (Katee Drysdale), and the scene is set for a sleepless night of interfamily argument, derision, and some very loud screaming.
At the center of the conflict is the gold pendant their grandfather kept hidden from the Nazis during his two years in the concentration camps. Years later, he used it in lieu of an engagement ring to propose to the love of his life.
To Daphna, the story is a symbol of her grandfather’s enduring faith and the troubled history of the Jewish people. For Liam, it represents the power of love his grandfather felt for his grandmother. And for Jonah, well, Jonah doesn’t say much. Not until the play’s final moment do we finally understand exactly how Jonah feels about “Poppy,” as they call their beloved grandfather.
Briskly paced by director Phoebe Moyer, the 90-minute play clips along, and does bring its share of surprises. One of the most impressive things about Bad Jews is how the playwright manages to keep the emotional stakes so enormously high, while keeping the plot from suddenly pushing off into the preposterous.
Unfortunately, as written and performed by a first-rate cast, Bad Jews might push the patience of any audience member with a limited tolerance for verbal cruelty. Daphna, played ferociously by Kron, is so condescending to her cousins, especially Liam, and so appallingly and monotonously ugly to Melody, it’s hard to care about what she wants or why. She’s a monster, and a very loud one. Liam isn’t much better. Selfish and bitter despite his family’s money and privilege, his obvious hatred for his cousin’s faith finally erupts in ways that make it impossible to care much about him either.
Though impressed with the verbal wit and cleverness of Harmon’s writing, and the commitment of the cast, I could not keep from wondering when the neighbors would call the police on the spoiled people next door.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★
Click here to read this article in its original form in the North Bay Bohemian