THEATRE: 23 MAY 2016


Bad Jews, by Josh Harmon

Seymour Centre (www.seymourcentre.com), Chippendale, Sydney | Until 4 June

Following the funeral of their beloved grandfather, holocaust survivor Poppy Feygenbaum, grandchildren Jonah (Matt Whitty) and Daphna (Maria Angelico) are gathered in Jonah’s and his brother Liam’s small but beautiful studio apartment, bought for the boys by their parents, yet one of many factors that aggravates Daphne.

Jonah and Daphna could not be more different. Johan is a shy introvert who blends into the scenery and is most happy when he’s on his computer. Daphne is an outgoing vicarious extrovert who’s not afraid to call a spade a spade.

Jonah is happy to bury himself into his computer but Daphna wants to discuss the family heirloom, Grandfather’s Chai necklace.

Her reasoning for why she should get the necklace is her strong belief that she is more religious than Johan and while Jonah tries to simply stay out of the discussion, Daphna cannot be appeased.

When they are joined by Jonah’s older brother Liam (Simon Corfeld) and his non-Jewish girlfriend Melody (Anna Burgess), who missed the funeral while skiing in Aspen, things really start to heat up as only families can.

The audience can initially can strongly relate to Melody’s awkwardness as an outsider in the family. You think you should look away as the “family” push each other’s buttons. but you can’t as your curiosity draws in to the drama.

In the small studio, awkwardly there is nowhere for Melody to retreat to, save for the bathroom — where you can still hear everything — as we painfully learn.

As the evening progresses Daphna and Liam are soon arguing about a number of issues that go well beyond the Chai necklace and cover issues such as the holocaust and religion.

The dialogue and pace are so cleverly delivered, starting with the casual familiar conversation about shared memories, until soon one comment sets a spark to the ever-present resentment lying just under the surface, especially between Liam and Daphna, which quickly escalates to a point of combustion.

Then, post-explosion everybody holds their breath and — even the audience I think — physically takes a step back and then the cycle starts again, with some casual conversation — the offer of a cookie, a cup of tea, a glass of water — but it is all just a prelude to the next combustion.

This very real drama of family, persecution and survival is delivered so well that it simply becomes the comedy.

And there is plenty of comedy, from Daphna’s observation when she notes that Melody has a tattoo — “Poppy had a tattoo, but not by choice” — to Melody’s soothing song to calm Daphna after a particularly combative moment with Liam — after all Melody is classically trained ...

This play delivers in bucket loads, from tears to belly laughs. The acting from the relatively young cast is wonderful, and while the strong New York Jewish twang is initially an affront to the ears, as the play progresses your ear adjusts and the magic of the rapid-fire dialogue of Daphna as she frenetically pursues her point is stellar.

Very enjoyable and something anyone can relate to — good Jews, bad Jews and non-Jews.