When written and performed at their best, plays are brutally honest and raise critical and complicated issues. That's why so many plays take place within a tight family unit -- on a small, cramped stage, all of the secrets come out. On its face, Bad Jews sets out to tell the story of one family of cousins trying to make sense of the life and legacy left behind by their recently deceased grandfather. But in reality this play conjures up so much more; it raises questions about how a generation holds onto tradition, how human beings mourn in different ways, and how we impart goodness in what can sometimes be a difficult world. Inside of one 90-minute act, you'll realize just how much emotion and meaning hides beneath the surface on a regular basis.
Joshua Harmon's play will resonate with anyone. This is a time when every culture is grappling with issues about how to retain its past heritage while focusing on advancing for the future. The cast is so perfect that you actually wind up believing these young actors could be a part of one mixed-up intense, and resentful family. Tracee Chimo, in the role of Daphna, rises above the others commanding attention at every juncture, even when she's out of sight. She's never out of mind.
The play hinges on what the family will do with the grandfather's Chai necklace that survived the Holocaust with him but is equally symbolic for all of his offspring. Daphna and her cousin Liam (Michael Zegen) feud over who rightfully gets the heirloom. it winds up taking on even more symbolic meaning as the decision reflects which direction this family is headed, religious or secular. Although this sounds like the play packs a real dramatic punch, the play at its heart is a dark comedy that will have you laughing uncontrollably and, at times, uncomfortably. Trapped in the middle is Liam's brother Jonah (Philip Ettinger) who you ca't help but empathize with throughout this brutal conflict we're all witnessing.
All of this comes together beautifully thanks to the craftsmanship of director Daniel Aukin, who knows exactly when to tighten or loosen the grip he has on you. As the play ends, you'll walk away feeling like you've just been through an ordeal, at once relieved that it's over but ever-so-slightly disappointed that you can't watch the whole thing unfold from the beginning again.