When we recently did a Spotlight interview with director Greg Karvellas, he explained that Bad Jews is a comedic explosion of cultural, religious and emotional expectations of a family dealing with the loss of their beloved Poppy, a holocaust survivor. He was not kidding, this play definitely packs a punch!
I am not a fan of the recent trend of adaptations, and it is seriously refreshing to see a director just accentuate the brilliant elements of a playwright’s vision. Karvellas does this perfectly in bringing to life on stage the words of Joshua Harmon without feeling the need to relocate the New York based Jewish family to Sea Point. His direction gives Bad Jews all the right emotional layers, from straight-out laughter, to “oh no she didn’t?” gasps, as well as the insightfully timed contemplative silent pauses that add depth to an already amazing set-up.
Talking about set-up, the set design by Saul Radomsky is truly world class too! I would love to move into that New York style apartment complete with Smeg kitted out kitchen, a bathroom with a Hudson River view and all the right Starbucks yuppie hints. The amazing set gives the great ensemble the playground to be so natural that you honestly feel you are eavesdropping on your neighbours.
The young Bad Jews cast practically ooze talent. Each one brings an unique personality element that makes this comedic affair a pleasure to witness from the moment the PlayStation ping transports you into a dimly lit living room with Jonah (Oli Booth) chilling in his boxers and shirt…
Enter Daphna (Lara Lipschitz) and the scene is set for a family rumble of note, fuelled by pent-up emotions that escape and run amuck all over the place. Booth and Lipschitz are the perfect balance of calm depth and drive-you-crazy search for purpose. Lipschitz owns the stage with every over-the-top preachy statement that she hurls at the other characters. I particularly love the cousin chemistry between her and Booth. Actually to be honest, Booth totally impresses in every scene too. If I have to choose a favourite character Booth is the reason Jonah will come out tops every time. Although he probably speaks the least, every word he utters is perfectly weighed and beautifully timed for maximum effect.
Jonah’s brother Liam (Glen Biderman-Pam) is the firecracker that just sets off the sparks that leaves no character without at least an emotional flesh wound, as they all in turn prove that words truly have the power to puncture a soul. Biderman-Pam's brilliant portrayal of Laim's larger than life eldest-child syndrome persona is tamed at all the right moments by his Legally Blond-ish girlfriend Melody (Ashley Carine de Lange).
As former opera student turned NGO admin officer, you will at moments honestly expect Melody to in true Snow White fashion call on the Company Gardens squirrels to come make up the beds and wash the dishes. Though in all honesty Melody will probably be the reason you see them walking around with earmuffs on every night from now until 31 December. Melody is enchanting but she is no Maria Callas. De Lange reveals real theatrical chutzpah in making the perfectly flawed, even somewhat gullible, Melody so very loveable that you completely believe her to have the power to charm doctorable student Liam into a total gaga state of mind.
Apart from brilliantly timed laughs that actually make you pause mid giggle to contemplate if you maybe spot something or someone slightly familiar in the crazy combustible family mix, the perfectly packaged chaos is entertainment to the max. I have not laughed this much in a non-stand-up true theatre setting for ages.
Bad Jews ticks all the boxes. It hits all the right laughable notes, while retaining enough depth to still speak to your soul about the trauma of a family loss and the next generations' search for identity, both in reflection upon the past and in revelation of their own dreams.
Oh and hats-off to dialect coach Emily Child for her amazing contribution, because at no point will the actors for one moment make you doubt their New York roots.
All these brilliant elements skilfully brought together by Greg Karvellas makes Bad Jews a definite must see (and then see again) at the Fugard Theatre. Bring your friends, bring your family, and maybe even bring your colleagues for an end of year party, because with Fugard Theatre cocktails and a play of this calibre you just simply can’t go wrong. Book your R130 - R150 ticket today at Computicket, and go be entertained!