Bad Jews, Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal Bath, review: 'Shockingly good'

There will be no justice in the world if this play does not transfer to London

Paul Taylor
Wednesday 13 August 2014 14:45
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews

Daphna (superb Jenna Augen) is an intense, frizzy-haired and very voluble Vassar student who intends to move to Israel on graduation where she looks forward to joining the army.

She's lucked out, she believes, in finding an amazing vegan rabbi in Haifa who does pre-rabbinical course work for women.

But to one of her two male cousins in Joshua Harmon's blistering funny play – here receiving its UK premiere in Michael Longhurst's brilliantly acted production -- Daphna, with her oppressive “uber-Jewishness”, is tantamount to being a one-woman round-the-clock recruiting drive for the PLO.

And if you think that is a deplorably tasteless way of putting it, believe me it's a honeyed eulogy by comparison with the obloquy the cousin ends up lobbing at her when they are all holed up in the New York flat that the cousins own (their parents are a good deal richer than hers) on the night after their grandfather's funeral.

The grandfather was a survivor of the Holocaust and for two years he hid from the Nazis, under his tongue, the heirloom “chai” – the treasured little medallion on a chain – with which his father, who perished in the camps, had entrusted him.

Daphna is determined to assert her spiritual and cultural over the claims of her male cousins. Jonah (Joe Coen) is peace-keeping and agnostic to the point of gormless paralysis.

(Pic: Nobby Clark)

Liam is a different kettle of gefilte fish and he's brought to furious, suppressed-hysterical life in a stunning performance by Ilan Goodman who was adorable as the contrastingly gentle and charming Jewish haberdasher in the excellent Intimate Apparel at this same venue.

Liam has not impressed Daphna by managing to miss the funeral. He's been incommunicado because (“a beautiful metaphor” snaps Daphna) he'd dropped his iphone from the ski-lift in Aspen where he was holiday with his blonde shiksa girlfriend Melody, who, after an expensive education studying opera, is now working in administration, with a large treble clef tattooed on her calf, to remind her how she once loved music.

Face glazed with apprehensive well-meaning, Gina Bramhill is exquisitely hilarious in the role, as Melody from Delaware tries to cope with Daphna's predatory overtures (native peoples were slaughtered so that families like Melody's could live in Delaware) and I thought I had died and gone to comic heaven when Daphna demands a song and the bungling Melody visits every badly learned trick of the American “art sons” tradition on the unsuspecting “Summertime” with nerve-racked solemnity.

The arguments between Liam and Daphna draw blood and from Liam some scorching misogyny. He's atheist and thinks that integration through marriage “out” is the answer; she passionately believes that the dead can only be honoured by preserving racial identity.

The sexist Liam implies that a good seeing-to might cure her of her ideological zeal. They thwack constantly argumentative impasses and it's not a pretty noise: “A world without Jews is progress?” “You're the one who sounds like a Nazi”.

I doubt very much that Daphna would be of the Joan “they don't even own pencils” Rivers' persuasion at the moment. And the shrewdness of Harmon's play is to gradually show how strangely alike this pair are. There will be no justice in the world if this shockingly good production does not transfer to London.

To 30 August, 01225 448 844

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