Long Wharf Theatre
“Bad Jews,” Joshua Harmon’s, by turns, funny and ferocious play, is currently being given an excellent production at Long Wharf Theatre. As tautly directed by Oliver Butler, “Bad Jews” concerns a group of 20-something young adults dealing with the aftermath of the death of their beloved grandfather and, more pointedly, trying to negotiate who will inherit their grandfather’s precious legacy. That legacy includes most prominently a chai—a sacred gold piece of jewelry, hung on a necklace, that their grandfather managed to retain all throughout the Holocaust.
As this ninety-minute play progresses, one sees the behavior of these grandchildren grow increasingly more heated and finally quite brutal, both in their words and their actions. This is not to say, however, that there isn’t humor in “Bad Jews”—this play has that in abundance, but it eventually elicits the kind of laughter that can catch in your throat, even as you laugh. With a cast of four superb actors, “Bad Jews” truly puts the title of the play to the test, as one examines the lives of these young people and just how far they will go to get what they want.
When the play opens, it is to the musings of the character of Daphna, terrifically played by Keilly McQuail. Her character is abrasive from the start, but one sides with her simply because her running dialogue is so funny. Taking place in a studio apartment in New York City, the opening scenes also feature the passive Jonah (nicely underplayed by Max Michael Miller), Daphna’s cousin, who makes it clear from the beginning that he does not want to get in the middle of any family arguments. The real drama in “Bad Jews” comes when Jonah’s brother Liam arrives with his non-Jewish girlfriend Melody. The strong Michael Steinmetz is wonderful as Liam and the blonde, pretty, slightly ditzy Melody is portrayed by the fine Christy Escobar. When these four characters are left in the small apartment together, the tension becomes so thick that it truly feels like all hell could break loose.
I am loathe to give any more of the plot away, but the playwright Joshua Harmon is not afraid to put fireworks onstage and his dialogue for the characters can be razor sharp. Keilly McQuail, as Daphna is perhaps the most incendiary person onstage, not afraid to say exactly what she feels. Michael Steinmetz’s Liam matches her in potency and it is their personal battle that makes up the crux of the play. Interestingly, Liam’s girlfriend Melody (Christy Escobar) proves to be perhaps the most decent and human of the characters, even as she stands outside the family’s fight for their grandfather’s legacy. Finally, there is the mostly subdued Jonah, who doesn’t say much and actually runs the danger of almost disappearing into the scenery onstage. Still Max Michael Miller’s quiet, yet effective performance pays off in that he offers a ray of light (not to be disclosed here), at the conclusion, to a play that can become quite vicious and disturbing.
It is safe to say that Joshua Harmon’s “Bad Jews” at Long Wharf Theatre is certainly not a “feel-good” work, but it can still be recommended for the finely honed characters, incisive dialogue, and the dark humor and fiery dramatics that this playwright presents onstage. As an added bonus, “Bad Jews” is the kind of play that is sure to linger in one’s mind, and to inspire long discussions, long after the show is over. For these reasons alone, I, for one, cannot wait to see what future works this extremely talented writer will bring to the stage next.
“Bad Jews” continues performances at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT through March 22, 2015. For tickets, please visit www.longwharf.org or call the box office at (203) 787-4282.