“Bad Jews” is good fun at The Cygnet Theatre

For better or for worse, there is no one who can make you more insane than family.  This universal truth is proven once again in “Bad Jews” at now playing at the Cygnet Theatre through February 12th.

Old family biases, fights, and wounds are reopened as this four-person cast brings this dark comedy about family and faith is brought to life with, at times, brutal humor.

The cast of "Bad Jews" at The Cygnet Theatre
The cast of “Bad Jews” at The Cygnet Theatre

Diana (Danielle Frimer), who prefers to be called by her Hebrew name Daphna) is a fierce and formidable woman who seems to think that starting aggressively is her default setting. She and her cousin Jonah (Tom Zohar), have just attended their grandfather Poppy’s funeral and they are waiting for Jonah’s brother Liam to arrive to the studio apartment that they all must share for the night.  Liam (Josh Odsess-Rubin) is arriving late because he dropped his phone off a ski lift in Aspen, an excuse which does not sit well with Daphna.  This trying time is heightened even more when Liam brings his gentile girlfriend Melody (Katie Sapper) with him.

The main source of tension is that Daphna wants her Grandfather’s “chai”, a gold necklace that their grandfather kept safe during his years in a concentration camp, and so does Liam.  Her main argument is that her connection to both the faith and their grandfather is more real and genuine, so therefore it should be hers.  She labels Liam the “Bad Jew” because he is more casual about his faith and culture, and always dates people under his intellectual weight class.

As Daphna and Liam fight it becomes clear that he is just as set and stubborn in his opinions and determination about her as she is about him. As their fights turn from intense to nuclear Jonah and Melody both try to navigate, mediate, fight back, and get out of the way, depending on which option may ensure their survival.

Dapha, played by Danielle Frimer, pivots on a dime from exasperating know it all to to isolated and lonely.   Frimer is able to maintain the hard balance of making the character abrasive, but tempering this acidity with some sweetness, and awkward vulnerability which helps keep the audience engaged in her character.

Josh Odsess-Rubin as Liam is no less formidable or self-righteous an opponent than Frimer’s Daphna. Instead of outright abrasive, his Liam is a softer, if entitled, condescending know-it-all, who tempers his sharp edges with the love he has for Melody.  But once the fight with Daphna really kicks into high gear he matches her hit for hit.

It’s this behavior that proves that both really earn the title of the play.

Jonah, played by Tom Zohar is hilarious as he alternates between trying to calm everyone down and trying to get out of the line of fire.  His mantra is “I don’t want to get involved” but they keep dragging him back in.  While he may not have as many lines as the others, he earns as much laughter and empathy as the others as he tries silently reacts to the fights, or tried to find a spot in the studio where he can stay out of view.  His facial expressions alone were enough to send the audience into peals of laughter.

The biggest surprise of the show comes close to the middle thanks to the tremendously funny Katie Sapper as the sweet, and good humored, if clueless, girlfriend Melody.  Left alone with Daphna, Melody is interrogated with a razor sharpness on the origins of her name and her heritage.  But it’s Melody who manages to make Daphna speechless for a moment when she tries to make Daphna feel better.  I won’t spoil it, but I promise that you’ll never think of the song “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess” the same way ever again.

All of this is set in a beautiful studio apartment designed by Sean Fanning that many would want to call their own.  It’s just big enough to fit everyone, small enough for them to be tripping over one another, and with a rich minimalist décor that makes Daphna’s snide remarks about money seem plausible.

This is a play full of rapid fire dialogue that starts the moment the show begins and only starts to lose some momentum in last act. This is hyper refined and erudite antagonism, at a lightning fast pace.  The fact that it is funny and made up of multiple facets as they go for personal attacks, argue culture and religion, debate about Jewish identity, as well as throw in family dynamics is what makes this play so entertaining and excellent.

This show is a non-stop 90-minute ride that will make you want to call someone in your family to tell them that you love them, even if they make you insane.

“Bad Jews” is playing at the The Cygnet Theater through February 12th.  For ticket and performance information please go to www.cygnettheatre.com

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