Bad Jews – Theatre Review – What Does Tradition and History Mean To You?

Bad Jews - Lila Hood, Austin Rogers, Jeanette Deutsch and Noah James Photo by Enci Box
Bad Jews – Jeanette Deutsch and Austin Rogers
Photo by Enci Box

 

There’s nothing like a death in the family to bring out the best and worst in surviving members.   The award-winning Bad Jews, by Joshua Harmon and directed by Dana Resnick, now playing at The Odyssey Theatre (April 21 – June 17th) centers around a Jewish family and the funeral of their Holocaust -survivor grandfather – who had managed to hide his “Chai” (a Hebrew letter meaning life/or 18 that holds religious significance)  from the Nazis for two years while in the death camp.

Bad Jews -Lila Hood, Noah James, Austin Rogers
Photo by Enci Box

Visceral emotions emerge as each person defends what they believe they are owed and while all people are born with some ethnic, cultural, religious or national inheritance what they choose to do with these feelings can conflict with others.  The feelings are universal when dealing with what we feel should belong to us.

Bad Jews – Noah James and Lila Hood
Photo by Enci Box

The term “Bad Jews” can mean many things.  To me, when I accidentally eat something non-kosher or don’t attend Sabbath services regularly, I consider myself a “bad Jew” but then how does one quantify someone whose heritage is Jewish but disallows everything that Judaism stands for?

Austin Rogers, Jeanette Deutsch, Noah James
Photo by Enci Box

In this play two families spar – the brothers Jonah and Liam are one group.  Jonah doesn’t want to make waves and yet goes along with what his cousin says because he doesn’t want to argue. He seems to take for granted his parents’ gifts and appears not to care much about the religious aspects, while his older brother Liam (whose Hebrew name is Shlomo) openly mocks the religion especially those of his more traditional views of his cousin Daphna yet still believes he deserves what he thinks his grandfather should have given him.  In fact, rather than attending his grandfather’s funeral, he took his non-Jewish girlfriend, Melody, skiing in Aspen.

Lila Hood. Jeanette Deutsch, Photo by Enci Box

Ignorant of the situation she has entered, Melody has no concept of Daphna’s questions or the meaning of what is happening around her.

Bad Jews -Lila Hood and Jeanette Deutsch
Photo by Enci Box

Liam calls Daphna, who hopes to become a rabbi and move to Israel, a “super Jew” while he insults everything she thinks and does even as she attempts to point out that the Aryan Melody really is not his equal.  Because of how her grandfather had hidden his “Chai” and what it meant to him – and what it means to her – she feels the most deserving of this.  But Liam, who sees it for what he thinks it is – a gold piece of jewelry that he plans to use to propose to Melody with.   To him, the rituals or the meaning of the events pass over him.

Bad Jews – Lila Hood, Austin Rogers
Jeanette Deutsch and Noah James
Photo by Enci Box

As he attempts to coerce his brother to help him keep their cousin from knowing he has the “Chai” or what he plans to use it for, you can see Jonah as he sways and tries to step away.  Yet the end scene where he sides with his cousin, which I will not divulge, hooked me in a way no other play has done.

Bad Jews – Austin Rogers and Noah James
Photo by Enci Box

 

Starring Jeanette Deutsch (Daphna Feygenbaum,) Lila Hood (Melody,) Noah James (Liam Haber,) and Austin Rogers (Jonah Haber) and was enhanced by director Resnick’s own abilities and sensibilities.  All the actors deserve awards for the intense passions they put in their work.  Austin, who is not Jewish, learned more about the Jewish traditions for his role, but all of them should only move into bigger and better roles.

 

The play is billed as a savage comedy dealing with family, faith, and legacy, it was, to me, more about keeping the tradition alive and what is in your heart.  While there were some funny moments, I found myself identifying with Daphna as she tried to safeguard her rituals, history, and heritage and totally understood her reaction to Liam and Melody.  But at the end, who wins out?

Bad Jews – Lila Hood, Austin Rogers,
Jeanette Deutsch and Noah James
Photo by Enci Box

While there are a few Yiddish terms used in the story -as shiksa (referring to Melody, the non-Jewish girlfriend), shiva (the events after a funeral -which in religious families last up to seven days, aliyah (moving to Israel) and seder (the Passover celebration retelling of the Jewish exodus from Egypt – also Jesus’ last supper), you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy or understand the essence of the play.

 

Bad Jews has won numerous awards and become one of Harmon’s most produced plays.

Bad Jews – Noah James, Lila Hood, Jeanette Deutsch
Photo by Enci Box

The Odyssey team who assisted the production includes Ron Sossi as Artistic Director, David Offner – set design, Tom Ash – lighting, Marisa Whitmore – sound, Vicki Conrad – costume, Josh La Cour – props, and Arnab Banerjhi served as dramaturg.  Gregory Velasco Kukcukarslan served as assistant director, while Emma Whitley was stage manager.  Lucy Pollak did the public relations.

 

The 90-minute play – no intermission –  runs until June 17 and there are many layers of it so it’s possible to see it more than once and get different sensations out of it.  Prices are $30-35 with discounted tickets for seniors, students, those under 30, and SAG members.  The third Friday of every month is wine night where the theatre serves complimentary wine and snacks as the audience mingles with the cast.  Check out the Odyssey Theatre or call 310  477-2055 for tickets.

 

Even if you are not Jewish, I urge you to see it not once, but several times.

About Serita Stevens 32 Articles
An award winning writer of books, scripts, adaptations and teacher of writing I am also a forensic nurse and assist writers, producers, and attorneys with their medical, forensic, poison and investigative scenes in their stories or cases.

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