A problem for any playwright, or any writer, is how do you present an obnoxious character without making him or her obnoxious not just to the other characters on stage but to the audience as well?
Playwright Joshua Harman goes some way to solving this problem by making his play Bad Jews a comedy and the character of Daphna (Ailsa Joy) – Miss Obnoxious personified – ludicrously over the top. Her nemesis, cousin Liam (Ilan Goodman), comes close to matching her. Liam’s brother Jonah (Jos Slovick) goes to the opposite extreme by becoming Mr Passive. (You can’t really blame him.) The fourth member of the group, the ludicrously ditzy Melody (Antonia Kinlay), an outsider not just because she is not Jewish, or family, is only marginally less irritating than the other three.
Would you want to spend 100 minutes in this sort of company? I am in the minority I think by declaring No, actually, after half an hour of them I was ready to scream. I am aware this is exactly the playwright’s intention, and that is partly the problem. The play consists of one continuous row, first – and mostly one-sided – between Daphna and Jonah and then between Daphna and Liam. The subject of the row is, basically, Jewishness, and who has the right to their recently deceased Grandfather’s heirloom, or ‘chai’, a gold necklace he concealed beneath his tongue throughout his two years in Auschwitz. Daphna, the ‘good Jew’, who plans to go to live in Israel when she’s graduated and join the army, thinks it should be hers. Liam, the ‘bad Jew’ – ie non-practising – who is actually in possession of it, wants to give it to his girlfriend Melody in place of a ring when he proposes to her.
I am not Jewish, and you don’t have to be to understand the issues – how important it is to keep the faith, or to feel free to ‘marry out’. I know this is a play, and a comedy, and I was aware last night the audience were laughing their socks off. My problem was the playwright, and his actors, were trying far too hard to make us laugh – whether it is Liam being driven to a nervous breakdown by cousin Daphna or Melody, a failed opera singer, giving her rendition of ‘Summertime’. I would merrily have wrung the necks of all four of them, the sooner the better. And yes, I know, this was probably the playwright’s intention.
29 February 2016