WEST CHESTERFIELD, N.H. >> Director Burt Tepfer said, "Joshua Harmon's 'Bad Jews' is hysterically funny." Which is the very reason he chose it to be on this season's playbill at Actors Theatre Playhouse. Opening this weekend on Friday and Saturday night,it will show for six performances. "But," he adds, "don't let the title fool you. Among Jewish people, a 'good Jew' is a Jew who embraces the rituals, language, cultural, and religious traditions of their Jewish heritage whereas a 'bad Jew' rejects those traditions. In 2016, how much do young adults identify with the cultural and religious traditions they have inherited? Some align closely with their family's observances and history while others wish to shed their Jewishness and move fully into America's melting pot."
That is the crux of this play and fodder for blistering humor as college-aged cousins argue over who should inherit a culturally significant heirloom bequeathed to them from their grandfather following his funeral.
An Upper West Side New York City studio apartment, claustrophobic with blow up mattresses and pullout couches for visiting out-of-towners, is the backdrop for emotionally raw and not always nice arguments. Punchy, with strong language, it will make you laugh and at the same time make you cringe; but it always makes you think. It sparks debate on how contemporary American Jews identify with their culture, how much of the thousands of years of traditions to maintain and what to abandon as they come to grips with their identity. And this is something everyone can relate to, Jewish or not.
While both cousins were close to their grandfather, one cousin feels that a very special piece of family jewelry, a Chai ("Life") necklace, which is imbued with special significance that their grandfather hid it in his mouth throughout his internment in the camps during the Holocaust rightfully belongs to her because she has been the "good Jew" strictly observing Jewish traditions. The other cousin – the "bad Jew" – is about to ask his girlfriend to be his wife and, while he rejects most of the traditions, wants to propose with the "Chai" as his grandfather had done when proposing to their grandmother.
Ultimately there are no good guys or bad guys, but rather two sides to the conflict, and, according to a press release: "Bad Jews" is a comedy, but one that packs a wallop. At times it seemed as if we are stuck in a shoe box with a couple of hungry hamsters fighting over a single food pellet. There are so many uproariously funny lines, and so much humor in the characterizations that it might be possible to overlook just how nasty these people are to one another but probably not. "Bad Jews" is too smart and too well balanced and too well written to let that happen.
Tepfer said he looks for plays that have content,and has a good argument, and "Bad Jews" has that with extremes that make you laugh and think. "Bad Jews" has been played world wide since 2013, called "the best comedy of 2014" by the New York Times. And, it was Tepfer's good fortune that Xoe Perra was available to play the part of the energetic and strong Daphna Feygenbaum. He said Perra is a dynamo and he knew "She could do it!" The cast of seasoned actors also includes Jonathan Reid, Kristina Meima and Elias Burgess, who bring boundless energy to this explosive comedy."It has been great fun working with these young newcomers to the Playhouse," Tepfer said.
He also said, "I am always impressed with good amateur theater in our area. We are lucky to have such excellent, quality stuff."
"Bad Jews" will be at the Actors Theatre Playhouse on Fridays and Saturdays through Saturday, Aug. 13 at 7:30 p.m. The toll-free box office line is 877-666-1855. Tickets are $15. On Friday student tickets are $8. Reservations are highly recommended.
The Actors Theatre Playhouse is located on the corner of Brook and Main streets, West Chesterfield, N.H.
For additional Information on this and other Playhouse productions, directions, reviews, blogs, etc. visit ATPlayhouse.org .
Director Tepfer concluded, "Come to the show prepared to laugh yourself silly while witnessing some confrontations you have probably had within your own families. Things get said. Then suddenly, they can't get un-said. It's a very well written play. It's funny. It's devastating. Mostly, we hope it's a special night of theater you won't soon forget."
Come see who gets the Chai, and why!
Contact Cicely M. Eastman at 802-254-2311 ext. 261.