It’s often said if you get two Jews in one room, you’ll get at least 20 opinions. This is not the case for the new play Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon.
There are only two arguments, both dogmatic and both sadly unable to meet in the middle, writes Debbie Ferrer.
The 90-minute work is set in real time in a claustrophobic studio flat, the night after the funeral of a beloved grandfather.
The man was a Holocaust survivor whose struggles have scarred his three grandchildren, Daphna, Liam and Jonah, in very different ways.
Firstly, there is the good-hearted but difficult Daphna (Jenna Augen), who believes passionately in preserving her Jewish faith at any cost and pours relentless scorn on her cousin, Liam. Liam (Ilan Goodman), arrogant but fiercely protective of his family, arrives on the scene having missed the grandfather’s funeral.
He has returned from a ski trip in Aspen with his non-Jewish girlfriend – nice but totally out of her depth – called Melody (Gina Bramhill), who has a large tattoo of a treble clef on clear display on her left ankle. Liam and Daphna are both intellectually aggressive in their extreme stances, both refusing to take into account each other’s respective viewpoints.
Liam condemns Daphna for what he perceives her to be superficial and phoney ‘Jewish’ righteousness, while Daphna can only see Liam’s self-loathing for his faith. Powerful comedic monologues with razor sharp humour highlight these two opposing viewpoints, and allow the audience to consider the dangers of tribalism and the complexities of living in a multicultural society.
It is left to Liam’s brother, the quiet Jonah (Joe Coen), the silent observer of this battlefield to bring some final calmness, real emotion and self-reflection to the play. Although he never states his viewpoint or picks a side, he is the one who has been subtly carrying his identity and religion in the most meaningful and personal way.
Bad Jews is a powerful play, with solid performance from all four leads. It raises relevant questions about the dangers of extreme dogma in any form – which, in light of national and international events, is a lesson we’d all do well to heed. • Bad Jews is on until 28 February at St James Theatre, 12 Palace Street, SW1E 5JA.For more details, visit www.stjamestheatre.co.uk
Bad Jews: ‘A powerful play with relevant questions on dogma and solid performances from all four leads’