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Theater Review: "Bad Jews"

“Bad Jews” plays through February 12, 2017 at Cygnet Theatre.
Photo credit:
Cygnet Theatre

Let’s face it, she’s a pain the ass. 

I’m talking about Vassar student Daphna (aka Diana) Feygenbaum (Danielle Frimer), Jew extraordinaire, in town for a family funeral in Joshua Harmon’s “Bad Jews.”

We meet her in the upper-80s Manhattan apartment of cousins Liam (Josh Odsess-Rubin) and Jonah (Tom Zohar), whose grandfather’s funeral was yesterday. Jonah was there.

Daphna was there.

Liam missed it because he misplaced his cell phone on the Aspen ski slopes, where he had gone with shiksa girlfriend Melody (Katie Sapper). But when he and Melody finally do arrive in New York, they get an earful from Daphna.

It’s odd that Daphna takes such a prickly tone with these cousins – after all, she’s the supplicant here. She wants Poppy’s chai – a necklace with the Hebrew word chai that he’d preserved through the Holocaust.

But she’s a niece, not even part of his nuclear family. So guilting out Liam – who claims Poppy told him the chai was his, and who’s to say nay? – seems self-defeating at best.

But I guess she can’t help herself, so she yells at Liam for missing the funeral and implies that she’s a better (i.e., more observant) Jew than he. 

Poor Jonah doesn’t care who gets the damned necklace – he just wishes they could all get along for the weekend. But the others keep trying to drag him into taking sides.

The real victim here is blonde Melody, an innocent bystander, not only clueless about the conversational ways and what is apparently the usual decibel level of this gang, but uncertain about the importance of the necklace.

Sapper does what she can with the stereotypically written role, but she knocks her one great scene out of the park. I won’t reveal it, but it involves her attempt to drag these screamers back from the cliff with a musical number.

Director Rob Lutfy and set designer Sean Fanning have created a suitable, even comfortable pressure cooker out of this studio apartment in Manhattan’s upper 80s, with a large sofa bed and now two mattresses on the floor for the weekend guests.

Oh, and a view of the Hudson from the bathroom. Jonah has commandeered the sofa bed and Daphna has declared dibs on the double size mattress. That leaves the twin mattress for Liam and Melody, who gamely notes that “we like to cuddle.”

Danielle Frimer does the heavy lifting in her fine portrayal of what must be the most obnoxious Jew in theatrical lore.

She’s smug, imperious and determined to get her way, despite the fact that she’s a bit of a shirttail relative, and that apparently Poppy wanted Liam to have the chai. But after all, she argues, she’s moving to Israel where she intends to join the rabbinate. Liam calls her “über Jew.”

Liam has his own problems to think about. He’d planned to propose to Melody in Aspen and put the chai around her neck at that time as a promise of the wedding ring to come.

But the dropped cell phone forced him to forgo romance for a recovery effort. He’s not about to let Daphna take the chai away now.

Odessa-Rubin plays Liam with all the stubbornness and lack of tact called for, and that is considerable. 

This is the kind of in-your-face writing that inspires a definite emotional response.

You’ll either love it (it was the third most-produced play of 2013, and was extended seven times in Chicago) or hate it.

I’m in the latter category. The only character I can identity with is Zohar’s Jonah, and like him, I wish these people would just shut up. But the goings-on inspired much laughter in my audience. Decide for yourself.

The details

“Bad Jews” plays through February 12, 2017 at Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St., Old Town.

Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

Tickets: (619) 337-1525 or www.cygnettheatre.com