Friday, June 19, 2015

Parman's Review: Bad Jews

A poster for BAD JEWS that's outside the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles...on June 10, 2015.

On Wednesday, June 10, I drove down to the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles to attend a play written by Joshua Harmon that's titled Bad Jews. The name of the production speaks for itself...with four characters (played by talented actors Raviv Ullman, Molly Ephraim, Ari Brand and Lili Fuller) embroiled in a 90-minute-long conflict about what it means to live like a true Hebrew during the 21st Century (in New York City, to be exact). I myself am Catholic, so I basically watched this play to see a darkly comical/dramatic take on modern Judaism without really getting the nuances of it. (Okay, I'll confess— I mostly watched Bad Jews because I'm a huge fan of Tim Allen's ABC sitcom Last Man Standing, and Molly Ephraim's hilarious character Mandy Baxter, in particular.) But this didn't take away from the fact that the four actors gave fine performances in the show, and I enjoyed it a lot.

As stated in the last sentence above, the four performers who breathed life into Bad Jews were very commendable...though I reckon that Raviv Ullman (who played Jonah Haber) preferred that he had more to do than just lean against the side of a wall or constantly pulling something to eat or drink out of the fridge while Daphna Feygenbaum (Ephraim) engaged in numerous diatribes about their family's devotion, or lack thereof, to Judaism (more on this later). Ari Brand, as Liam Haber, did a nice job conveying extreme frustration and annoyance as Daphna called him out (and almost ruined certain plans of his) on his life decisions when he arrived at the family apartment with his girlfriend Melody (a Christian character who Lili Fuller portrayed in a performance that was a mixture of sweetness, empathy and naïveté). Now in terms of Daphna Feygenbaum...

Whereas in Last Man Standing, Molly Ephraim got to act amusingly ditzy as Mike Baxter's (played by Tim Allen) second oldest daughter Mandy on the show, in Bad Jews Ephraim gets the best (and most intellectual) lines during the production as she plays Daphna—a well-educated and opinionated girl who planned to move to Israel to serve in the military after graduating from college (Daphna attended Vassar, I think). Ephraim did a very terrific job reciting lines that dealt with Delaware and genocide (yes, both were mentioned in the same sentences) well as tattoos and stardust (again, she also mentioned these in the same sentences). By the end of the play (well okay, several minutes into it), it's clearly obvious that Daphna is the antagonist of the show. But like Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels (nice analogy, eh?), her intentions were for the best as she tried to obtain a prized heirloom known as a 'Chai' that her family had in its possession since World War II. But by the conclusion of Bad Jews, Daphna tried so hard to do what's best for her family that she almost ended up tearing it apart instead. While Anakin ultimately failed in his attempt to save his family, Daphna succeeded in retrieving that heirloom...but in a way that most likely obliterated her relationship with her relatives; Liam, in particular.

I obviously won't spoil the ending of Bad Jews, but there is a silver lining with the conclusion of the show in that Daphna finds out that she isn't the only one trying to preserve her family's Hebriew heritage. Bad Jews is being shown in theaters across the country [New York, Florida, Texas (Yes, Texas. Houston, to be exact) and Memphis, Tennessee] as well as London, England—so check it out now! Bad Jews is directed by Matt Shakman...who helmed episodes on a lot of big TV shows like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Revenge, The Good Wife, Mad Men and the upcoming mini-series, Heroes Reborn. That's pretty cool! Carry on.

As Jonah Haber (Raviv Ullman) and his brother Liam (Ari Brand) look on, Daphna Feygenbaum (Molly Ephraim) has a deceptively calm conversation with Liam's girlfriend Melody (Lili Fuller) in BAD JEWS.
Michael Lamont - Hollywood Reporter

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