Cousins clash over religion, their heritage, and a precious family heirloom in Joshua Harmon’s equal parts side-splitting, button-pushing, discussion-provoking Bad Jews, back in L.A. as a mostly quite successful guest production at Hollywood’s Theatre Of NOTE.
Meet Daphna Feygenbaum (Sigi Gradwohl), whose grandfather’s death has given the 20ish Jewish-American Princess-Of-Passive-Aggressive her latest excuse to wreak havoc as only she can, this time inside the Upper West Side studio apartment recently purchased by her wealthy aunt and uncle as a pied-à-terre for their second-born college student son Jonah (Tyler Alverson).
From railing against the utter wrongness of her cousin’s being given his own million-plus-dollar Manhattan flat to lacerating his older brother Liam (Jordan Wall) for having missed their Poppy’s funeral because, get this, he dropped his cell phone from an Aspen ski lift and couldn’t call home, Daphna née Diana is clearly some piece of work.
Complicating matters for this pissed off J.A.P. is the discovery that the soon-to-arrive Liam will be bringing with him his shiksa girlfriend Melody (Hilary Curwen), and even worse, that the grad student intends to propose to his oh-so-not-Jewish girlfriend with the necklace their beloved grandfather kept hidden under his tongue during two years in the Nazi death camps—a wedding proposal that is going to happen over Daphna’s dead body!
Talk about a recipe for hilarity and disaster.
Not only that, but rarely has a play as outrageously side-splitting as Bad Jews tackled religion with as smart and savage a wit as Harmon’s does when pitting Israel-bound Daphna (who has recently given up her Anglo name … if not yet her virginity) against suburbia-destined Liam, whose only connection with his religious roots would seem to be a Hebrew moniker (Shlomo) no one had dare utter upon pain of death.
Bad Jews In Hollywood gets off to a somewhat sluggish start, pause after pause punctuating what ought to be a relentless near monolog by the unstoppable Daphna, foreiting laughs that should be there from the get-go.
Fortunately, once Liam and Melody arrive, things (and Sabrina Lloyd’s direction) perk up considerably, and once they are up, edge-of-your-seat hilarity remains high throughout diatribes, insults, Gershwin’s “Summertime,” and a catfight that would do Krystal and Alexis proud.
Gradwohl’s girl-next-door likeability goes a long way towards humanizing a young woman born with neither social filter nor pause button so that even when Daphna is as horrid as only she can be (and Gradwohl doesn’t hold back in giving us Ms. Feygenbaum at her most horrid), we understand where she’s coming from.
Wall’s dynamic, sexy Liam provides Daphna with a fiery adversary to combat and Melody with an honestly devoted boyfriend to love; Curwen gives Melody the sincerity and heart to make her more than simply a bubblehead blonde; and Alverson completes the cast terrifically as the still-waters-run-deep Jonah.
About the only misstep once Bad Jews hits its stride is a “Summertime” that tries too hard for laughs. (Though the sequence is supposed to funny, it forgets that Melody, a bona fide if not all that talented opera grad, should at least be able to carry a tune.)
Scenic designer Chad Phillips’s set only barely hints at the elegance of Jonah’s Upper East Side apartment, but it is a textbook example of how much can be done on a shoestring budget with cabinets, furniture, and a fresh coat of black paint. Ashley McCormick’s lighting design is mostly first rate save for a too obvious red effect that detracts from a fight sequence realistically choreographed by Peter Berube. Uncredited costumes are just right for each character.
Bad Jews is produced by Caity Ware. Gradwohl and Curwen are executive producers. Aaron Saldaña is production stage manager.
If it takes chutzpah to title a play Bad Jews, it takes even more talent to write a play as remarkable as Bad Jews turns out to be, and Joshua Harmon possesses both in equal measure.
Regardless of your place on the religious spectrum, Bad Jews In Hollywood is not only guaranteed to make you laugh, it is sure to keep you talking long after its powerful single-spot fade to black.
Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga, Hollywood.
June 30, 2106
Photos: Caity Ware