In its essence good theatre reflects on life; it tackles the issues with which society grapples without necessarily providing clear-cut solutions.
A version of the London West End smash-hit currently showing at the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town, Bad Jews is an extremely funny play, but underneath the humour is a razor-sharp commentary on religion, tradition and family values.
After the death of their grandfather, a family heirloom propels cousins Daphna (played by Lara Lipschitz) and Liam (Glen Biderman-Pam) into a domestic squabble of honour, faith and heritage.
It’s safe to say that Liam loathes Daphna, not least for her insistence that Jewish culture forms an integral part of their identity. Liam is dating a Christian girl, Melody, and Daphna disapproves of their relationship. In contrast to his sister, Liam doesn’t really care about religion or culture, but prefers to be influenced by the spirit and personality of the individual.
The duality of Daphna and Liam is constantly at play and the complexity of religion and culture in a modern society is a central thread running through their conversations – or rather their screaming matches.
Interestingly, writer Joshua Harmon does not provide clear-cut answers but rather highlights the complexity of the binaries to pose questions to his audience. If we only marry within our culture are we not starting a new form of nationalism? But if we don’t value culture don’t we lose our sense of identity?
All four actors deliver a stellar performance with Lipschitz and Biderman-Pam standing out for the sheer energy of their delivery. Whilst they portray vastly different characters, they highlight the similarities between them: their passion and intolerance. Both ardently believe they are following the “right” path and they are equally stubborn, unwilling to conflate their viewpoints.
The comic timing of the actors is superb and even the silences convey meaning. Oli Booth (as Jonah) is silent for significant parts of the play, but his lack of dialogue is meaningful in itself. Though a distinct character, Booth’s Jonah is almost a representative of the audience on stage.
Bad Jews is purely delightful and it is no surprise that it is returning for another run. The realistic set with the “fourth wall” concept, often found in realism, makes it come delightfully alive. After enjoying the humour of this play you will undoubtedly go home and mull over the complex issues.
Bad Jews runs at the Fugard Theatre, Cape Town until 31 December 2016.