Regional Theater Review: ‘Bad Jews’ in Lakewood
Special to the Daily
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What: Tragi-comedy “Bad Jews.”
When: Through Aug. 6.
Where: The Edge Theater, 1560 Teller St., Lakewood (about 90 minutes from Vail).
More information: For tickets, visit theedgetheater.com.
There’s nothing quite like a squabble over inheritance to bring out the worst in a family, and “Bad Jews,” now playing at Lakewood’s Edge Theater, takes that unfortunate reality to extremes with Joshua Harmon’s play about two cousins battling over a family heirloom.
Although billed as a comedy, “Bad Jews” comes across more as tragic expose about what happens when two immovable people are forced to make a choice. There are plenty of laughs in the play as directed by Josh Hartwell, but the focus is on the darker motivations residing in the souls of the battling cousins. Veteran Denver actress Missy Moore is perfectly cast as “super-Jew” Diana, who prefers to go by her Hebrew name of Daphna. Wearing her religious identity as both shield and spear, Moore’s Diana is the pinnacle of self-righteousness whose sense of what’s right compels her to do all of the wrong things.
In the other corner is her cousin Liam (John Wittbrodt), just in from Aspen with his girlfriend Melody (Chloe McLeod). Liam has committed the grievous sin of missing their grandfather’s funeral altogether, and Diana lets him have it when it’s learned his absence was due to a dropped cellphone off of a chairlift.
Joining Melody as witness to the carnage is Liam’s brother Jonah (Jason Green), who more than anything wants to remain above the fray. And at the center is a necklace with a gold ornament of the Hebrew word “chai” (living), which their grandfather kept away from the Nazis during his years in a concentration camp by holding it under his tongue. Diana really, really wants the chai, secure in her belief that her grandfather wanted her to have it. Equally fervent in this belief is Liam, who plans to offer it to Melody in a marriage proposal in lieu of a ring — just as their grandfather did.
Moore does crazy quite well, and she inhabits the role of Diana with a manic vehemence you can’t look away from. She shakes, she clenches, she yells and growls and, above all, she persists in pursuing her desire regardless of the damage she’s inflicting. In Liam she finds someone as determined as herself, although not possessed of the same religious fervor. Wittbrodt is up to the task of presenting Liam as Diana’s worthy opponent, showing him as capable of holding his ground even in the face of the increasingly untenable situation.
Confined within the space of a Manhattan studio apartment, she and Liam are like a couple of caged animals fighting over a bone, as Melody and Jonah try and fail to stay out of it. Diana and Liam won’t let them. While their motivations to gain possession of the chai are different, their beliefs in the validity of their claim are equal, and we can only watch in fascination as they tear each other apart over it. The Edge is a small theater, and no one is far from the ring, consisting mostly of blow-up mattresses on the floor.
Despite the title, “Bad Jews” is less about being Jewish than it is being human. In Diana, we have a person whose lonely life has caused her to create an imaginary boyfriend while convincing herself that getting a hold of a family heirloom will make her happy. Liam may be portrayed as an entitled interloper by Diana, but mostly he comes across as a guy who just wants to pull off a proposal. Jonah has the air of someone who’s seen this all play out before in his family, and while hardly surprising, the brawling is deeply distasteful to him. And in Melody we have the perspective from the outside: that of a very strange family she may be increasingly wary of joining.
“Bad Jews” runs 90 minutes without intermission, immersing the audience in this strange little world in a way that’s highly engaging and more than a little disturbing. Four strong performances bring Harmon’s award-winning play to vivid life in a little theater that’s gained quite a reputation for presenting challenging theater in a little corner off of Lakewood and Colfax.