L to R: John Hardin (Liam), Sarah Corey (Daphna), Hillel Rosenshine (Jonah) in "Bad Jews" at the Gamm Theatre.(Photo by Cat Laine)

Review: Bitingly Funny 'Bad Jews' Offers a Roller Coaster of Emotions

Will Demers READ TIME: 2 MIN.

A beloved grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, passes away and leaves behind an heirloom that becomes available to two brothers and their cousin. It is this religious "symbol" that becomes a central theme in "Bad Jews," a play by American playwright Joshua Harmon ("Admissions," "Significant Other"). But do family and tradition mean more than just having this item in one's possession? Daphna (Sarah Corey) thinks so. Brothers Jonah (Hillel Roshenshine) and Liam (John Hardin) differ on this subject for reasons of their own.

After the funeral, Sarah is staying with Jonah in his and Liam's studio apartment awaiting the return of his brother from a skiing trip in Colorado. Having lost his phone on a ski lift, Liam arrives too late to attend the proceedings with girlfriend Melody (Nora Eschenheimer) in tow much to the chagrin of Daphna, who believes that missing Poppy's funeral should never have happened. What follows is a caustic, explosive and sometimes downright shocking examination of family, tradition and more significantly, what one's religious beliefs mean to the individual.

Harmon's snappy yet incredibly frank dialogue echoes the way families express themselves behind closed doors. It's incredibly funny, yet almost heartbreaking the way these characters lunge at each other with hard facts about their upbringings, faith and appearances. Much as siblings will and often do, the fighting is tempered with moments of sweet memories and genuine truths; Harmon excels at this dialogue. But it is the heart of our debt to family and traditions that echoes resonantly here.

Three of this productions' actors are making their debuts here, and they are most welcome. Rosenshine's Jonah is a quiet, introverted character at odds with Corey's loud and boisterous Daphna; she's incredibly funny and spews Harmon's dialogue effortlessly as if she's living this woman's life herself. Hardin's Liam is a mass of tightly wound emotions ready to explode, and when he does, it's incredibly funny. And as for the odd girl out Melody, Eschenheimer embodies the girl who is unfamiliar with this particular family's traditions and history, making her revelations at once funny and tragically heartbreaking.

Tony Estrella's deft direction weaves this one act play into a rollercoaster of emotions from profound sadness to heightened elation; even the caustic exchanges between Daphna and Liam seem like people we know or have lived with all our lives. But the central theme is never glossed over here, and even the conclusion will leave you touched in that it shows even the quietest of us still have our say. "Bad Jews" is powerful and resonant theater, and this is what The Gamm Theatre does best. See this one and have a conversation with your family.

"Bad Jews" is running through March 26th at The Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick, RI 02886. For information or tickets call 401-723-4266 or visit www.gammtheatre.org.

by Will Demers

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