Bww review bad jews centers on a devastatingly funny battle of old testament proportions gas nozzle icon

For those of us who have ever spoken with a Holocaust survivor, it is easy to understand their perilous plight endured and why any cherished possession that survived the devastation would be desired by all surviving family members. Such is the story in Joshua Harmon’s BAD JEWS, an extremely well-written character study centering on four people who each represent an important element in a human being’s psyche and how we use it to get our way. No one is totally right or wrong, but you will wish a better compromise could have been reached to not tear the family apart by the play’s end.

Directed with crackling energy by Dana Resnick at the Odyssey Theatre, BAD JEWS opens the evening after Poppy’s funeral, a beloved family patriarch who survived the Holocaust, hiding his most precious gold possession under his tongue for two years. Now that he is gone, a family battle to inherit the precious keepsake is about to take place between the ever-talking, self-centered Daphna Feygenbaum (Jeanette Deutsch), and her cousins Jonah (Austin Rogers) and Liam Haber ( Noah James). Their ensuing battle pits her strong will against Jonah’s gentle soul and Liam’s overly-educated, brash intellect, muted only by Liam’s shiksa (Yiddish for a non-Jewish woman) girlfriend Melody (Lila Hood, a seemingly bubble-headed, blue-eyed blonde) whose heart is open to allowing each to have their say, inadvertently setting off the ensuing firestorm for possession.

You see, Daphna has such contempt for everyone other than herself, it is no wonder her cousins have trouble being in the same room with her, let alone carry on a conversation or discussion with her. This young woman is a train wreck waiting to happen, her attitude so irritating you would just like to reach out and try to knock some human compassion into her insecure self to stop her from spewing such contempt for others just to make herself feel better about her own lonely life. Speaking almost non-stop at a breakneck pace, Deutsch is a wonder in the role (as are all the perfectly cast actors in this production), even though you most likely will not like Daphna and would avoid her at all costs in real life.

The play opens in the Upper West Side studio apartment bought for Jonah and Liam by their parents, living just down the hall, as a "spare bedroom" for when they visit. Jonah and Daphna are settling in after Poppy’s funeral, waiting for Liam to arrive due to his delay in getting back from a skiing trip to Aspen, which caused him to miss the services attended by "over 400 people who really cared about him," according to Daphna. That fact alone is enough to set Daphna off in trying to persuade her cousin Jonah to side with her right to inherit Poppy’s gold necklace with his beloved Chai (Hebrew for "life") charm since obviously she is the most devout Jew in their family and therefore should inherit the treasured family heirloom. And since the quiet and rather timid Jonah does not want to send the tempestuous Daphna into one of her well-known argumentative tizzies, he just tells her he "does not want to be involved" when she challenges his brother Liam for possession of it.

So imagine her surprise when Daphna’s less observant older cousin Liam arrives with Melody late in the evening and reveals he has Poppy’s heirloom already in his possession and has his own plans for it. This announcement causes sparks to loudly fly between the cousins, until Melody encourages them to stop arguing and demands that Liam let Daphna have her say without interrupting her (after all, girls do need to stick together against strong-willed men now and then). Of course, a devastatingly funny battle of Old Testament proportions ignites as soon as both women realize Liam meant to propose to Melody with it on an Aspen mountaintop, just as his Poppy used it to propose to their Grandmother. Sweet and sentimental, appropriate and totally out of the question for Daphna.

But as the fighting for possession escalates, the question arises as to what makes a good Jew or bad Jew, and is it possible the better Jew can be the worse person? After the bitter physical battle ends, causing Liam and Melody to exit the premises, it is Jonah was has clearly chosen the best way to honor their late grandfather, a surprise twist offered at the end of the play that will have you gasping with surprise at his choice. Clearly the quiet one has turned out to not be a bad Jew in any sense of the word.

Complimenting the production is the wonderfully realistic Scenic Design by David Offner, Costume Design by Vicki Conrad, Lighting Design by Tom Ash, and Sound Design by Marisa Whitmore, with Josh La Cour’s realistic props scattered around making it easy to picture yourself inside this cluttered studio apartment in New York City as the cousins attempt to work out their differences. Director Dana Resnick, a professor of theater arts at Loyola Marymount University, asks us, "where should we draw the line in the fight for what we believe?" And no doubt the play’s premise and presentation will leave you discussing its implications long afterwards.

BAD JEWS continues on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, with additional weeknight performances on Wednesday, May 9; Thursday, May 17; Wednesday, May 30; and Thursday, June 14, all at 8pm, at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025. Talkbacks with the cast follow the performances on Wednesday, May 9; Friday, May 18; and Sunday, May 27. Reserved seat tickets range from $30 to $35. For reservations and information, call (310) 477-2055 or visit OdysseyTheatre.com