Review: "Bad Jews" closes Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company's season with sharp comedy.

by Ed Huyck Special to the Star Tribune
Star Tribune
Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Throughout Joshua Harmon’s uncomfortable comedy “Bad Jews,” the characters argue over what it means to be a modern-day Jew. The Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s sharp production provides plenty of fodder.

The night after their grandfather’s funeral, three young cousins battle in a cramped New York City studio aparment over his heritage — and what it means to be Jewish. Daphna has embraced it, with plans to head to Israel after graduation from Vassar.

Cousin Liam has completely rejected it, and prefers to study any culture other than his own. In the middle is his brother, Jonah, who loathes being drawn in by either side.

The bone of contention? Their grandfather’s Chai necklace. It’s more than a symbol of the family’s Jewish heritage. For two years in a concentration camp, Pappi hid it under his tongue. After the war, he used it to propose to their grandmother.

Daphna wants it as a symbol of the family’s heritage. Liam wants it to propose to his girlfriend, the decidedly not-Jewish Melody. That’s where the sparks really fly and Harmon cuts to the heart: How are these millennials connected to their family’s nearly 6,000-year heritage?

Sometimes Harmon’s script is more college-dorm conversation than family drama, but director Hayley Finn never loses sight of the characters, or the humor that rises from the rolling, 90-minute argument.

While all of the company does strong work, it is Miriam Schwartz’s titanic Daphna that dominates the show. The character could easily be just a string of cliches — a shrill, overbearing undergraduate certain that her way is the only correct way — but Schwartz really digs deep to find the kernels of pain that fuel Daphna.