15 July 2022
BAD JEWS (Arts Theatre) Review
Having missed the original London run, I saw the New York staged reading of “Bad Jews” last year. You can check out the original reviews, as the things I liked and didn’t like about the play itself haven’t changed much. Watching a cast on stage in London now is what made all the difference.
To sum up the plot: 3 Jewish grandchildren (a loudmouth Zionist, a shy abstainer, and an unencumbered-by-heritage snob) squabble over a precious heirloom one of them stands to inherit from their dead grandfather. The plot thickens when one of the grandkids adds a very non-Jewish girlfriend into the mix.
Joshua Harmon’s text combines stereotypes with regular life by way of clever dialogue. Although Judaism plays a big role in the subject matter of the play (even the title comes from one of the characters having previously eaten a shortbread biscuit during Passover and claiming it was ok because he is a “bad Jew”), the arguments and big points of conflict here are universal. You don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate both the cleverness and the banality of the arguments. Every person in the audience will be able to think of similar debates having unfolded at some point within their own family. Sadly, the text is the text, so the same criticism applies about Harmon expecting the audience to know what a Hai is. The minute it was brought up, a couple behind me, as well as two couples in front started whispering trying to figure out what it is. It was distracting and unnecessary.
Overall, it’s a well-matched ensemble performance.
Rosie Yadid leads this cast as Daphna, who is obsessed with her heritage, Israeli boyfriend, and the fact that her public school teacher parents aren’t in a position to buy her a studio overlooking the river. The best part about Yadid’s performance is that she wasn’t doing any shouting (except for an occasional line that clearly demanded it). She managed to convey so much with her facial expressions, she pretty much stole the show. That said, the character is a university senior, but I was disappointed that, for better part of an hour at the start, Yadid’s tone and inflections made her sound half-way between a teenager and a caricature. Instead of coming across as passionate, she ends up sounding like a temperamental toddler. To her credit, Yadid did rein it in a bit half-way through, so Daphna was a lot more like a real person toward the end.
Charlie Beaven as Jonah, Daphna’s cousin, starts out rather blah, but becomes more confident by the end. I reckon he’s a bit too mopey at the start, but that’ll probably get adjusted during the run.
Ashley Margolis as Liam, Jonah’s older brother, didn’t do it for me. Sure, the character is written to be full of contradictions (such as studying culture, but claiming heritage isn’t that important), but I didn’t think he was meant to be a hysterical fly-off-the-handle king of drama, especially if the staged reading was anything to go by. He was doing more eye rolling and head shaking than Daphna! I wanted him to be a little bit likeable, but Margolis makes him a silly kind of unreasonable.
Olivia Le Andersen completes the cast as Melody, Liam’s girlfriend. Mixed feeling here again. Granted, Melody is meant to be a bit ditsy, I think there is too much of that happening, especially in her scenes with Daphna. Again, toning down the caricature factor would go a long way. That said, the singing scene was absolutely marvellous. She got a huge ovation immediately, and it was wonderful to see someone throw themselves into the depth of comedy without holding back.
Richard Kent’s set is fantastic. The hall and the bathroom provide great ways to separate the characters when the dialog necessitates it. Richard Howell’s lighting was weird. I was sat in the first half of the stalls, but the shadows made the faces look almost out of focus, like I was sitting in the back of the balcony.
Jon Pashley’s direction is quite odd at times. There is a–if not the most–dramatic moment (don’t worry, no spoilers) where one of the characters shows something to another one, with the latter asking “Is it real?”, and yet a good chunk of the audience laughed! It wasn’t meant to be funny, and I think it should’ve been down to Pashley to ensure that the right vibe as being created.
Cheapskate enjoyment value: £3.