Theater Review: Bad Jews

Joshua Harmon captured lightning in a bottle in 2012 with his brilliantly sardonic play, “Bad Jews,” but in the hands of director Anna Steers, it might have been better off as a dramatic reading. The script is so well written, it’s almost too easy for the actors to coast off of the labor of the playwright.

An off-Broadway gem that stirred up controversy among the local Hillel helped the Pierce College Theatre Department completely sell out a show for the first time in 10 years.

Enter: Arrogance served on a silver platter, or as his family knows him, Liam, played by Ryan Phillips. As the eldest brother, Liam feels entitled to their deceased grandfather’s gold Chai (Hebrew word for “life”) necklace, an heirloom that has lasted through one of the worst tragedies, the Holocaust. Daphna, his cousin, seeks to claim it for herself. Cue the nonstop arguments.

Phillips displayed an honest portrayal of the conundrum that is the meshing of the younger generations with the organized religions of our ancestors.

Jeanette Deutsch, as Daphna, had trouble with comedic timing which, in a play that demands every ounce of one’s intellectual prowess to follow (let alone perform), it’s no wonder the script’s multifaceted banter turned into an amalgamation of thrown away lines and poorly finessed jokes.

In a play filled to the brim with cultural diatribes, self-serving monologues, and intellectual tirades, Andrew Fromer, as Jonah, was left holding the bag. With such highbrow dialogue, the performance relied too heavily on Fromer for physical comedic relief, which he handled extremely well.

He embodies the uncomfortable tension that people feel when they are put in the middle of an argument between two egotistical juggernauts.

In a true instance of collateral damage, Sharai Bravo is just too intelligent to play the role of Melody, Liam’s non-Jewish girlfriend. Before any of her lines, the sheer amount of charisma exuding from her body language alone supersedes the script’s description of a less-than-intelligent woman with a treble clef tattoo.

This is not to say that Bravo stole the show. In fact, that was one of the major pitfalls; there are only four characters in the play and none of them make any grasp to curry favor with the audience. Even with the wry, domineering roles played by Deutsch and Phillips, the ferociously clever dialogue turned to putty.

Before the play, the cast emerged under a spotlight, instruments in hand, and proceeded to play a rendition of “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. There is no redemption there; it was an all around bad move. It provided absolutely no context, nor added any meaning to the play.

The stage design is genius. In such a small enclosure like the Dow Arena, the stage areas invade the space usually reserved for the audience, demanding their attention while giving them an in-depth look at this upper west side apartment.

The Broadway musical “Hairspray” is the final show of the theatre department’s 2016-2017 season. It will premier in the LAPC Performing Arts Mainstage on May 5 and run through May 14. The production is directed by Shaheen Vaaz.