Full of Chutzpah
By Deborah Langley
On its return season to Melbourne, I recently had the pleasure of attending opening night of the Vass Theatre Group‘s production of Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon. This relatively new play has been a smash hit in London’s West End, New York’s Broadway and indeed across America, both selling out and extending much like the product here in Australia.
The play may be new, but it draws on very traditional theatrical methodology, throwing together some eccentric and memorable characters in a high-pressured situation in order to present some deeply-felt and complex ideas about religion and cultural heritage.
A beloved grandfather has died and three cousins (and one girlfriend) are spending the night after the funeral together in a cramped Manhattan apartment to sit ‘shiva’ with the family the next day. Close quarters, family dynamics and interesting personality clashes brings up viciously hilarious quarrels about family, faith and the legacy of the tribe as a treasured family heirloom with religious significance is up for grabs.
But who has rights to Grandfather’s prizes procession? The bossy, overbearing and fanatically religious Daphna – performed by Maria Angelico who delivers with all the annoyingly loud speed of thought that traditionally characterises New York Jews. Her wealthy cousin Liam (Simon Corfield) and girlfriend Melody (Anna Burgess) who really want to be the voice of reason but don’t stand a chance with the crazy energy of Daphna? Or Jonah (Matt Whitty) who doesn’t want to get involved?
This incredibly talented cast bring the characters to life with all the complexities that they require. Burgess’s operatic solo of Summertime has to be a standout comedy moment for me but all performers encapsulate their characters perfectly. Although I do wonder if some of the Jewish nuances were missing, as the work sometimes felt very tense, and perhaps some of the comedy was lost without these very subtle cultural timings.
Overall this is a brilliant production that crosses cultural lines, with so many similarities to be drawn between Jewish families and any close-knit clan. So if you can get past the very specific Jewish references (most of which are eventually explained) make sure you check it out before this well-deserved second season is over!
Dates: 27 April – 14 May
Times: Tue-Sat 8:00pm, Matinees: Sat 3:00pm, Sunday 1 May and Sunday 8 May 5:00pm
Venue: Alex Theatre, St Kilda