Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews explores authenticity of the self in relation to religion, ethnicity and history. At opposite ends of a spectrum are the religiously observant Daphna and her atheist cousin Liam, both Jewish by genealogy but each relating to their backgrounds in vastly different ways. They fight over what constitutes right and wrong, constantly and fervently berating each other for their conflicting life choices. At its best, Harmon’s writing is deliciously cutting, with characters verbally attacking each other at the most vicious degrees imaginable. The words are brutal, but they ring true, even as they emerge in contradiction from opposing sides of the argument.
The play’s comedy is not always refined but director Gary Abrahams injects a confident energy into the production to ensure that chutzpah makes up for the occasional shortcomings of the text. Abrahams’ eye for detail delivers a very tight production that insists on being compelling at every moment, and rich with thrilling resonance whenever it delves into more meaningful proclamations.
Excellent performances by the cast of four make Bad Jews a memorable night at the theatre. Daphna is played by Maria Angelico with extraordinary gusto. Dangerous, funny and vulnerable, she goes through the gamut of human emotions for a portrayal of what seems an oddity but in fact translates with intimate accuracy. We may not be able to identify with her world of religious righteousness but her very human expressions of desperation are universally accessible. In the role of Liam is Simon Corfied, animated and passionate with great conviction, giving life to an uptight scholarly type who although represents the voice of reason, is comically unable to quell his shortness of temper for his adversary. Supporting actors Anna Burgess and Matt Whitty are both accomplished and precise with their depictions. Burgess in particular, impresses with her capacity to turn every brief opportunity in the limelight into a delightful showcase for her comedic genius.
For all its talk about religion, and the varying extents to which its individuals practise the beliefs that they inherit, Bad Jews makes a convincing point about love being the overriding factor that helps determine how we live. We cannot decide who we truly fall in love with, much like we do not choose who we are born to. Liam is accused of sacrilegious desecration by the pious Daphna, but the play makes us understand that anything that would come between real love to be erroneous. Liam revels in the purity of his romantic relationship, while Daphna experiences purity in her religious orthodoxy. They are concurrently right, even if in a state of war.