by Joshua Harmon
Jews Behaving Badly
There's a scene in Sleepers with Woody Allen (born Allen Koenigsberg) visiting an outfitters' emporium in a dystopian future - with robots programmed to play out the roles of stereotypical Jewish tailors.
TLT and her convertible were reminded of this take on Jewish identity after motoring along to the Theatre Royal Haymarket for Joshua Harmon's dark comedy Bad Jews which has already completed a couple of successful runs in Bath and London before going on tour and returning to the capital.
The self-conscious twenty something grandchildren of a Holocaust survivor cram into a New York studio apartment overlooking the Hudson River following his funeral.
Long-held resentments erupt in an almighty battle between two of the cousins for possession of the gold "Chai" (meaning "life") pendant belonging to their "Poppy" which he had kept hidden while in a Second World War concentration camp, apparently under his tongue.
Bad Jews tackles troublesome matters within the framework of a farce. While religion has clearly shaped their lives, the economic and gender divide proves just as important a catalyst for the Titanic struggle between born-again Jew Daphna (Ailsa Joy), a clever Vassar student, and her more secular wealthier cousins, Liam (Ilan Goodman), her main adversary with blonde non Jewish girlfriend Melody (Antonia Kinlay) in tow, and Jonah "I don't want to get involved" Haber (Jos Slovick).
The play has a schematic feel with some obvious comedy set-ups. But it's a speedy and engaging no-interval 100 minutes with plenty of scorching below-the-belt dialogue and a subtle historical subtext for a post credit crunch generation cut adrift in modern globalized America and the world.
Director Michael Longhurst keeps the action moving in the apartment and the corridor in an evocative set designed by Richard Kent and manages the broadstroke comedy without sacrificing the underlying seriousness and knotty issues.
If the play itself is sometimes as self-conscious as the generation it portrays, there are scattergun visceral moments of insight, especially when Daphna is obviously fighting as much as a woman told to shut up as for her side of the family and her place in the world.
An amber/green light for a fast-moving, if sometimes flawed, thought-provoking piece.