Bad Jews

5 April
The Lowry

Bad Jews is a play by Joshua Harmon, an American playwright who questions what it means to have Jewish heritage in an increasingly globalised world which, for better or worse, favours hegemony and modernity over identity and tradition.

The play is set in an expensive New York condo on the evening of a family funeral, paid for by the parents of Jonah (Jos Slovick) as an overspill guest room. Initially, it’s hard to feel sympathetic as three (non-) grieving cousins cram into the room and bicker about their grandad’s will. However, it soon becomes apparent that Harmon isn’t interested in ingratiating them with the audience. Instead, he draws a parallel between their generation and that of their grandfather, Poppy, who survived the Holocaust. As the drama unfolds and the cracks appear in their guarded personalities, you can’t help but be won over by their faults as they recognise how fortunate they are to be alive. Their delayed grief becomes impossible to contain as they realise that they’ve lost a link to a part of their cultural history as well as their beloved grandfather.

The two main protagonists are feuding cousins Daphna (a devout and proud Jewish woman played tonight by understudy Vicki Davids) and Liam (the Anglicised name of the non-practising Shlomo played by Ilan Goodman). The script centres around their opposing takes on Judaism. Liam is more lax with regards to observing Passover and marrying into the faith, which riles a horrified Daphna, whose sole purpose is to preserve the lineage so important to her own sense of identity. When family outsider Melody joins the fray, her unsuspecting nature is the catalyst that makes family grievances become inescapable to gloss over. Not that they try to hide their feelings. They are unashamedly passionate in stark contrast to Melody’s WASP-ish veneer of civility.

The script does a commendable job of being even-handed and doesn’t side with either opposing view. Like the best playwrights, Harmon leaves the audience to decide for themselves.

Nathan McIlroy

Photo by Nobby Clark