Misbehavior trumps feeling in Cygnet’s “Bad Jews”
Cygnet Theatre’s Bad Jews is either a no-holds-barred comedy in which resides important discourse about family culture and tradition, or it’s 90 minutes of exhaustive tantrumming by two equally obnoxious adversaries. Joshua Harmon’s 2012 play is probably both, to tell the truth. In it, young Jewish cousins Daphna (Danielle Frimer) and Liam (Josh Odsess-Rubin) wage verbal war over possession of a chai amulet that belonged to their barely dead grandfather, a Holocaust survivor. A small New York apartment is their battlefield, with entitled Liam’s non-confrontational brother Jonah (Tom Zohar) and his shiksa girlfriend Melody (Katie Sapper) in the crossfire.
Daphna and Liam are so unrepentantly vicious and nasty that it’s impossible to root for either one. A fair mount of the audience laughter must be of the shocked or guilty variety. Odsess-Rubin manages to be funny even amid his childish diatribes; Frimer’s self-righteous Daphna, meanwhile, is a tornado of temerity. Bad Jews’ principals are so obstreperous and their salvos so cruel that whatever pathos the play strives to achieve at the end feels tacked on.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.