Theater review: 'Bad Jews' -- 3.5 stars
"Are you a good witch or a bad witch?" Dorothy is asked in the Munchkinland sequence of "The Wizard of Oz." In Joshua Harmon's highly entertaining dark comedy, the question posed is "Are you a good Jew or a bad Jew?"
"Bad Jews" revolves around two very pushy cousins -- the college-age, frizzy-haired Daphna (Tracee Chimo), who proudly flaunts her Judaism, rabbinical aspirations and the Israeli boyfriend she supposedly met on a Birthright trip, and the slightly older Liam (Michael Zegen), an intellectual who is, if not a self-hating Jew, at least made uncomfortable by Daphna's theatrical and zealous nature.
The play is set immediately after the funeral of their grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, and concerns how Daphna and Liam fight with determination over possession of their grandfather's Chai necklace, a meaningful family heirloom.
They are joined by Liam's quieter brother Jonah (Philip Ettinger) and sunny non-Jewish girlfriend Melody (Molly Ransom). While Daphna and Liam each try to win Jonah's allegiance, Daphna treats Melody like an idiot and takes advantage of her kindness.
To those who appreciate tight, neatly structured playwriting with well-motivated characters and conflicts, "Bad Jews" is a welcome breath of fresh air.
The Roundabout Theatre Company produced "Bad Jews" a year ago at the company's 62-seat black-box space. Now it's at the larger upstairs Off-Broadway theater.
Compared with a year ago, the play has been further tightened and, under Daniel Aukin's precise direction, the small cast works together perfectly well. Chimo, a star in the making, brings a fierce edge to Daphna and captures all the comedy.