Playing in Skokie, "Bad Jews" Review - A Play that Should Not be Missed

The play "Bad Jews" reopened Friday night, June 26, 2015 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie, after an extended run at Theatre Wit, Chicago. We'd been told to expect a very funny play; the piece got off to a slow start, but in retrospect, that may have been necessary to introduce the relationships and conflict. Indeed, the most impressive aspect of "Bad Jews" was all the thinking and reflecting you do after seeing it...both my companion and I, who were at the reopening and ran into each other on Sunday both agreed we'd like to see it again right away. Once the character of Liam is introduced, and the dialogue takes off, you are carried away by the truly funny pejoratives and expletives and don't have time to reflect upon what these people are doing to each other and to themselves, to all their hearts and minds until the very end, when the fantastic and tragic denouement explains the title and takes your breath away. Then you stagger out into the theatre and you leave, wondering later what was so funny that you missed the inherent tragedy. But don't think for a minute that the actual experience was anything but rollicking and extremely hilarious...It’s just that the masterful soliloquies are so fast paced (there's not much action...this is all talk) that there's no time to gasp or reflect on the snide, the vicious and ultimately the fascistic-manipulative natures of the two main characters. Later, you realize the two "minor" characters had the most, well, character.

 

Bad Jews stars Laura Lapidus as Daphna, Erica Bittner as Melody, Ian Paul Custer as Liam, and Cory Kahane as Josh

 

Laura Lapidus as Daphna and Erica Bittner as Melody

 

Written by Joshua Harmon, and directed by Jeremy Wechsler, the play stars Cory Kahane and Ian Paul Custer as two very different brothers, Jonah and Liam; Laura Lapidus as Diana Faygenbaum, their first cousin; and Erica Bittner, as Melody, who becomes engaged to Liam halfway through the ninety minute performance. The action all takes place in the Manhattan studio apartment purchased for the brothers by their parents, and it all occurs on the night after the cousins grandfathers (Poppy's) funeral. Liam has been skiing with Melody and missed the funeral. Before they arrive, fresh from the slopes, Diana, a Vassar student with aspirations to the rabbinate, and a cunning and consciousless fighter, has been trying to suck Jonah into agreeing with her. She wants to take possession of the Chai (Hebrew for "life") necklace Poppy concealed in his mouth for two years while in a concentration camp, and which he gave his bride to be (the grandmother Diana excoriates) in lieu of the engagement ring he couldn't offer her until later. Diana feels she should have this object, traditionally worn by men, because her religious views are the strongest...she's the "best" Jew of the grandchildren. What she doesn't know, and what the audience only learns when Diana is in the bathroom (whose acoustics otherwise allow its inhabitants to overhear all the vituperative froth spilled in their absence) is that Liam has the necklace...his mother FedEx it to him so he could propose to Melody...a non- Jew.

 

Ian Paul Custer as Liam, Laura Lapidus as Daphna, and Erica Bittner as Melody

 

 

Ian Paul Custer as Liam and Eric Bittner as Melody

Once Liam and Melody enter, the drama becomes a free for all, a Jewish farce, if you will. While Diana and Melody are not in earshot, Liam importunes Jonah for the necklace and Jonah tells his brother the same thing he's told Diana...a squirming acquiescence to the refrain of "I don't want to get involved." Then Liam eviscerates his cousin’s character. Next, while the boys are not present, Diana baits and taunts Melody for, among other points, her lack of cultural identification, her self- mutilation in the form of a musical tattoo, her lack of dedication to her college major, and her implication in Americas rape of its Indians.

 

Laura Lapidus as Daphna, Ian Paul Custer as Liam and Erica Bittner as Melody, singing

 

Cory Kahane as Josh, Ian Paul Custer as Liam

But the worst and most unforgivable attacks are Diana's upon Liam, especially vulgar and horrific when she learns he has the necklace and that he intends to offer it to Melody as an engagement gift; she literally tears it off Melodies neck! Liam fights back, and they both display bitter awareness of each other's "buttons", until finally Melody takes Liam away, pulling him out of the apartment, and adjuring him "Don't even look at her". This is only after Diana has accused him of everything from failing to love and respect Poppy or his ethnic heritage to emotional and intellectual cowardice.  Before he leaves he cries out " Don't you Holocaust me"! when that all-too- familiar Jewish guilt-inducer is used against him. Jonah's part is very minor and is not acted memorably, and Diana's tone is one-note throughout, more even than it was written, but Bittner, as Melody is a breath of fresh air, comedic and empathetic,  and Custer, as Liam, was brilliant in his own defense and defeat.

  

Ian Paul Custer as Liam, mid-rant

Far be it from this reviewer to spoil the ending ...this is a play that should not be missed. It has been extended to August 8th.

For tickets and information, visit NorthShoreCenter.org, or call the North Shore Center box office, 847.673.6300.

 

Photos: Charles Osgood

 

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