Tag: Matt Whitty

Vass Productions Presents BAD JEWS

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.

Bad Jews.jpg

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

Bookings: http://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/show.aspx?sh=BADJEWS16

REVIEW: Joshua Harmon’s BAD JEWS

Strong performances and serious laughs

By Myron My

Already a hit on Broadway and the West End, Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews has crossed continents for its Australian premiere. The “bad Jews” here are three family members, siblings Jonah and Liam, and their cousin Diana (who prefers to be called by her Hebrew name Daphna) who have come together for the funeral of their grandfather. Over the course of the evening, their relationships, cultural identity, class and life are all explored, often with hilarious results.

Bad Jews Photo_Credit Jeff Busby

Daphna (Maria Angelico) is not concerned with any form of financial gain from her late grandfather, and all she requests from her cousins (Simon Corfield and Matt Whitty) is her grandfather’s “chai”, a gold ring that represents his soul and that he had since he was a child. While this “simple” request soon creates much tension for the three, it creates an equal amount of laughs for us.

Director Gary Abrahams’ exhaustive casting search has more than paid off with the actors he has chosen. Angelico is definitely a find as Daphna, who, despite playing a character that can be abrupt and hostile towards anyone “different”, still manages to show the vulnerability that is hiding under Daphna’s strong cultural and religious ideals. However, it is Corfield as the arrogant and self-entitled Liam who remains the star of Bad Jews. The antithesis of Daphna, he is not a follower of the faith and nor does he have the strong connection to family that his cousin does. Corfield does such a phenomenal job with his portrayal that I actually hated seeing his character on stage and really wished he would shut his mouth every time he spoke. Everything about Liam; the way he speaks, the way he stands, the way he moves, is all powerfully convincing as a privileged, upper-class white man.

Anna Burgess as Liam’s girlfriend, Melody, brings an innocence to the show and some brilliant comic relief, with one memorable scene in particular being a highlight of Bad Jews. It’s perhaps because of these three strong characters that Whitty’s Jonah unfortunately left little impression as scenes involving the character usually had him doing nothing more than standing around with an exasperated look on his face. I’ve seen Whitty perform before and he is assuredly a good actor but unfortunately the character needed to have a stronger presence if he was going to compete against the likes of Daphna, Liam and Melody.

Despite the one-act play taking place entirely in a studio apartment, Abrahams ensures that the pacing never drags or falters. His use of the space and a mixture of verbal as well as physical comedy ensures our attention is always on the stage.

Ultimately none of the characters are actually very nice people and we are left wondering who exactly is the “bad” Jew and who is the rightful heir to the “chai”. Even with a few ‘rants’ that went on for too long, Harmon’s script is a clever and well-observed character study on what makes us ‘us’, and with the talented group of actors on board, this is a production that makes for an enjoyable and entertaining night out.

Venue: Alex Theatre, 135 Fitzroy St, St Kilda
Season: Extended until 19 September | Tues-Sat 8.00pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 3pm
Tickets: Between $40 – $55
Bookings:  Alex Theatre

Image by Jeff Busby

Review: VCA’s Compleat Female Stage Beauty

Stunning performances throughout

By Christine Moffat

The VCA School of Performing Arts’ production of Compleat Female Stage Beauty is a play about image and transformation, examining the very modern, yet age-old issues of gender and societal roles. Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher imagines a tumultuous episode in the life of the real-life celebrated female character actor Edward ‘Ned’ Kynaston (Tom Heath), and charts his historical journey from darling of London society to the wilderness of potential irrelevance.

Kynaston is at times arrogant, at others touchingly fragile, and requires a transformative performance. Heath deftly makes the flawed Kynaston heroic by investing him with an unwavering honesty of intention. As Nell Gwyn, Rosie Lockhart is a standout performance, succeeding in making the historically famous and notoriously fickle Gwyn a warm and vulnerable real woman.  Matt Whitty is aptly named, as his comic timing is impeccable and his Charles II is amusing without becoming a caricature. Alice Cavanagh was also especially good in both her roles, again showing a good sense of natural comedic acting, as opposed to simply playing for laughs. It has to be said that it is difficult to only make specific mention of the performers above, as the calibre of performances from every member of this large cast was superb.

The original set design by Amaya Veccellio (beginning at the theatre door) takes the audience backstage in a seventeenth-century theatre, and helps create the sense of immediacy that continues throughout the play. On the walk to your seat the actors are right there, completing their pre-show rituals of dressing, rehearsing lines, or even grabbing a quickie. The careful lighting created by Sarah Willetts augmented by the subtle sound design of Kahra Scott-James evokes a pre-electric world, whilst ensuring that the audience does not need to strain see details. Director Tanya Gerstle deserves recognition for generating a true feeling of immersion and involvement: during a bawdy tavern scene when Kynaston is at his lowest, and undergoing great torment from his ‘audience’, my theatre companion had to stop herself from heckling back in his defence.

This classic play explores the concept of self, and how it is affected by circumstance and choice. This particular production is a poetic marriage of pathos and comedy, and a credit to everyone involved. I can thoroughly recommend it as an intelligent, engaging, and most importantly, entertaining night’s theatre.

Show information:

Sun 28 October – Thurs 1 November, 7:30pm

Fri 2 November, 2:00pm & 7:30pm

Venue: Grant Street Theatre, Grant Street, Southbank

Tickets: $22 Full/$16 Concession

Bookings: www.trybooking.com