The Prickle (@ThePrickle) January 22, 2015
Josh Harmon’s Bad Jews is about cultural identity, prejudice, jealousy, materialism, religious conservatism and, above all, the struggle of three young adults to contend with the death of their cherished grandfather, a Holocaust survivor. And it’s hilarious.
Set in a studio flat overlooking the Hudson River in the aftermath of their late grandfather, “Poppy”’s funeral, the narrative centres around the conflict between the near-Zionistic Daphna Feygenbaum and her self-confessed “Bad Jew” cousin Liam, both of whom lay claim to Poppy’s Chai. Thanks to the genius theatrical mechanism of a bathroom door, the audience is treated to a succession of vicious rants from each cousin about one another, which provide the driving force behind most of the play’s comedy (I’ve always said, swearing is inherently fucking funny). Especially when it emerges the door isn’t at all soundproof.
Mediating the dispute are Liam’s “Delawarian” (read blonde, blue-eyed and about as switched on as Eric Pickles’ smoothie-maker) girlfriend Melody and his younger brother Jonah. Melody embodies the polarity of Daphna and Liam’s world views through their diametrically opposite opinions on her – Liam infatuated by her goodness of spirit, Daphna condescending of her intelligence and repulsed by her non-Jewishness. Jonah on the other hand represents their ultimate similarity, as both treat him identically as a piece to manoeuvre in their claims against the other. Jonah’s reluctance to get involved in their emotionally-charged squabble over Poppy’s Chai is ultimately revealed to be rooted in a far more genuine grief than either his brother or his cousin display.
You wonder, whilst leaving the excellently intimate St. James Theatre (and making swiftly for the intimately excellent Phoenix), whether what you just watched was actually about Daphna and Liam or, despite him having the least to say, actually about Jonah. You also wonder whether it was actually about culture, religion, prejudice, grief and the rest, or whether these were just comic devices around which a thoroughly entertaining piece of slapstick ensued. Few plays are as simultaneously good both for the soul and the funny bone.