Family arguments are, for the most part, unavoidable. Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon, playing at Jewish Theatre Grand Rapids this month, portrays a small family dynamic that takes those arguments from zero to 100 in a matter of seconds.
When Revue visited a rehearsal, every member of the production declared their excitement and certainty that this play will draw in a new audience with its savage comedy.
One night, three cousins face their overwhelming differences in a vicious fight of words following the death of their grandfather. With heavy material, dark sarcasm and a colorfully formulated script, Bad Jews will seat the audience as a fly on the wall, anticipating what the next household tantrum will bring.
Although he has directed many shows before, this is Director Tom Kaechele’s first time doing so at the Jewish Theatre.
“I was surprised by this script choice because of the unique content, but people are fascinated by family dynamics,” Kaechele said.
Mariea Luisa Macavei plays the big-haired Daphna who takes her position in one corner as the self-merited “authentic” Jew, while Matthew Swartz’s Liam tries to defend his position in his conformed corner. The clash of biting words because of different beliefs turns even more wicked as they fight over a piece of religious jewelry that their grandfather left behind.
Daphna’s entire life is rooted in being Jewish in America and refusing to compromise anything that would deter her from being the same as the generations of Jewish family members before her.
“I understand the importance that she sees,” Macavei said. “I am 100-percent Romanian, so I see the importance of figuring out where you came from.”
Daphna becomes obsessed with her interpretation of continuing the traditions she and her cousins were handed.
The entire show is set in a studio apartment on the upper west side of New York City with a luxurious view of the Hudson River right outside the window. The unrelenting Daphna tries to force her impartial cousin Jonah, played by Ian Reul, to endorse her claim to the piece of jewelry. The apartment in full tilt becomes all too crowded with the arrival of his brother Liam and his blonde beauty “shiksa” girlfriend Melody, played by Audrey Wierenga. Jonah and Audrey are stuck sitting on the powder keg, unwilling participants in this family fight.
Despite the play being about a Jewish household, Reul said the story is universal.
“It’s a family drama at its core and has distinct messages from two legitimate places,” Reul said. “I’m not Jewish, but I can relate to these characters. Every audience member will look and say, ‘I have a family member just like them.’”
Liam is all-too-familiar with Daphna’s hardheaded ideas about his own lifestyle and refuses to be pushed against a wall by her Jewish criticisms. This is the driving power in the play. Swartz said that Liam is the one changing with the world around him and he brings a passion equal to Daphna.
“It’s about coming to terms with the differences and accepting everyone for who they are,” Swartz said. “But it’s fun to watch that explode all over on the stage.”
According to Kaechele, it’s “a fierce battle, with fiercely flaying your family!”
Bad Jews really brings to the table the conversation of what it means to be religious and have distinct beliefs in today’s world. Wierenga, who plays Melody, hopes that this play will draw in the younger audience because of the real topics that it deals with, such as death and figuring out who you are.
“It’s going to spark a lot of conversation because it has a different flavor of theater than what Grand Rapids is used to,” Wierenga said. “This is different from what Jewish Theatre has done in the past.”
Jewish Theatre Grand Rapids
GRCC Spectrum Theatre
160 Fountain St. NE, Grand Rapids
Feb. 28-March 10