Family members are complicated. They can comfort during tearful times and lunge at the flick of a few cruel words. NextStop Theatre Company’s Bad Jews is a powder keg of familial tension that’s packed into ninety, explosively funny minutes.
Most of Joshua Harmon’s script lends itself to a well-done production (perhaps that’s the reason the play is currently the third-most-produced in the United States). He constructs solid jokes that follow one another in a quick pace and develops layered characters while wrapping them up in an uncomfortable dispute; these are the components that result in hilarity and small bouts of drama.
Stuck in an apartment on the night after their grandfather’s funeral, Jewish cousins fight for the possession of a family heirloom. Religious Daphna (Sophie Schulman) battles her secular cousin Liam (Noah Schaefer) while his brother Jonah (Vitaly Mayes) remains non-confrontational. And joining the group is Liam’s non-Jewish girlfriend Melody (Elizabeth Kate Vinarski), a doe-eyed bystander that Daphna brands “Shiksa.” As Daphna and Liam outwardly bash the values, views, and lifestyles of one another, Jonah and Melody are caught in the middle of the verbal fire, desperately hoping it will die down.
The talented cast brings forth the heat in Harmon’s writing. Especially Schulman, who portrays Daphna with megaphonic power. She charges, back and forth across NextStop’s black box with a fierce air and a voice that’s as voluminous as her thick, curly hair. Schaefer plays the short-fused Liam as though steam could blast out of his ears at any minute, using smart comedic timing to execute his blistering monologues.
Vinarski’s Melody is adorable and somewhat vapid, portraying the character with saccharine earnestness. And then there’s Mayes, who sports a great “oh-my-god-I-don’t-want-to-be-here” face for his rendition of Jonah. His expressions, in reaction to the more vocal characters, bring on the laughs as he looks absolutely rigid with discomfort.
closes June 17, 2018
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There’s one aspect of Bad Jews that, depending on the viewer, might be unharmonious with the rest of the solid play: the ending. Harmon’s come up with a creative twist of a finale, there’s no doubt about it, but it arrives swinging out of nowhere like a wrecking ball. A character reveals an eye-widening secret, a handful of lines go by, and then a fade to black. The show just ends. And while some may enjoy such an ending, likening it to the way real life moments don’t get neatly tied up with full resolutions, others may find it slightly confusing.
That being said, the ending is just a loose seam on this entertaining fastball of comedy. You’re sure to reel with laughter as Bad Jews pitches zinger after zinger after zinger.
Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon. Directed by Cristina Alicea. Featuring Vitaly Mayes, Noah Schaefer, Sophie Schulman, and Elizabeth Kate Vinarski. Assistant director: Caitlin Caplinger. Set designer: Jack Golden. Costume designer: Kristina Martin. Lighting designer: Sarah Tundermann. Sound designer: Jonathan Powers. Properties designer: Sarah Kamins. Fight choreographer: Casey Kaleba. Stage manager: Laura Moody. Assistant stage manager: Kristen Hunter Fitzgerald. Master electrician: Maeve Nash. Master electrician: Jonathan Abolins. Presented by NextStop Theatre. Reviewed by: Emily Priborkin.