Monday, 2 May 2016

Bad Jews, April 28, 2016 ***

Written by Josh Harmon
Produced by Aleksandar Vass with VASS Theatre Group 
Alex Theatre, St Kilda, until May 14, 2016 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 28, 2016 
Stars: ***
This review also online at Herald Sun Arts on Fri April 29 (or Mon May 2) and in print later. KH

  Matt Whitty, Maria Angelico, Simon Corfield, Anna Burgess

Bad Jews, the title of Joshua Harmon’s play, may sound controversial or anti-Semitic but some Jews use this term to describe Jews who do not observe the traditional practices of their religion.

The play is set in a well-appointed, New York City apartment (designer, Jacob Battista) that is a pressure cooker for the volatile relationships between three cousins who, on the night of their Poppy’s (grandfather’s) funeral, argue ruthlessly about who should inherit an heirloom that has religious significance.

Matt Whitty plays quiet, mild-mannered and unassertive Jonah who is unwilling to voice an opinion in order to avoid conflict between his older, non-observant brother, Liam (Simon Corfield), and their overbearing, religious cousin, Daphna (Maria Angelico).

The situation worsens when Liam introduces Melody (Anna Burgess), his good-hearted, shiksa (non-Jewish) girlfriend who struggles to comprehend the ugliness of this family argument.

With swiftly paced direction by Gary Abrahams, Harmon’s play is peppered with barbed jokes that trigger laughs and groans at the expense of every character and his dialogue highlights the absurdity of the argument between the equally stubborn and uncompromising Liam and Daphna.

However, these stereotypical characters are not fully rounded and, although Jonah and Melody garner some sympathy with their more moderate and sensitive attitudes, Liam and Daphna are extremely dislikeable and unsympathetic.

Their rigid and opposing representations of what constitutes a bad Jew provide little light and shade in this argument.

With her wild mane of hair and feisty physicality, Angelico effectively embodies Daphna’s brutal, self-absorbed rudeness and her often hilariously incessant babbling about any topic, but it is hard to resist running on stage to slap this offensive character.

Corfield’s Liam is brittle, entitled and single-minded while Whitty plays Jonah with subtlety, successfully capturing the accommodating peacekeeper who is probably the only one in the room grieving for his grandfather.

Burgess is suitably ditzy and stereotypically blond as the pleasant, accepting Melody and she gets a huge laugh when we realise that Melody is totally deluded about her singing ability.

Harmon’s final resolution to all the vehemence and vigorous conflict seems too convenient but the production is entertaining and its issues should generate plenty of post-show discussion.

By Kate Herbert

Maria Angelico, Simon Corfield, Anna Burgess
 Maria Angelico, Simon Corfield, Anna Burgess

Maria Angelico - Daphna
Simon Corfield -Liam
Anna Burgess - Melody
Matt Whitty - Jonah

Directed by Gary Abrahams
Designer Jacob Battista
Lighting Designer Rob Sowinski
Sound Design by Dave Ellis
Costumes by Kelsey Henderson
Executive Producer Helen Ellis.

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