It was a sell-out success in both New York and London, and then went on to become a similarly sizable smash in Melbourne in 2015.
And now, Melbourne audiences are getting the chance to experience round two, before Bad Jews moves on for its premiere engagements in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.
Written by New York playwright Joshua Harmon, Bad Jews is a story of family relationships and cultural identity, as well as grief, love and loss. And despite its name, it’s a show that’s said to have universal appeal.
“It could just be called Bad People,” says Anna Burgess, who plays the role of Melody in the Australian production.
“If you stick four people in a room, three of them happen to be related and one woman is walking in as a stranger, what happens? There’s conflict, there’s love, there’s laughter, [and] there are tears… It’s for everybody!”
Theatre People had the fortunate of speaking to Burgess and co-star Maria Angelico about the Sydney debut of Bad Jews, which arrives at the Seymour Centre on May 18.
“I think it just hit me today how excited I am,” Angelico says about reprising the lead role of Daphna.
“It’s such a great fun play, and they’re such fun characters, [and] I adore the cast,” she adds.
“It’s such great writing. Whether you are agreeing with the content or whether you’re Jewish or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s so well written, it’s funny, [and] it’s moving… It is just such a great piece [that] flows so beautifully,” she says.
Angelico recalls for Theatre People her first experience of reading through the script before auditioning.
“As I started reading, I thought, ‘This is amazing!’ The writing is so clever, so witty, so rhythmic and it’s really bold. I just found myself ripping through it.
“I was learning the incredible amount of dialogue for the audition [and]… really enjoying that. I just fell in love with the character [and] the writing.”
Burgess also had an instantly strong reaction to the writing.
“The comedy jumped straight off the page for me,” she says.
“It’s a page-turner. You can’t put it down.”
Moving into rehearsals, both Angelico and Burgess were excited to take on the challenge of the work’s larger-than-life characters.
“Gary [Abrahams], the director, very early on said don’t be scared of playing these as if they’re archetypes”, Burgess says, and draws a comparison to the characters of the hit TV series, Seinfeld.
“If you take those characters out of context, they’re quite extreme. But then in New York, they’re not really.”
Angelico adds: “You can’t be fearful of these characters. You have to just go for it. There’s something really freeing in that and very enjoyable, thinking ‘I can’t be too much right now’. There’s something really exciting about just going for it and leaving everything at the door.”
So how did the actors find their rehearsals?
“It was a beautiful rehearsal process,” Burgess says.
“We had a lot of previews leading up to it too, so we got to really feel the audience and where the rhythms were lacking.”
Angelico says that while it’s a fun play, it requires considerable energy.
“‘Fun’ doesn’t always mean ‘easy’. It was incredibly difficult,” she says.
“It’s very dialogue-driven… It’s very intellectual, even though it’s very accessible to the general public.
“My character Daphna, in particular, is super cerebral. I don’t think I think as fast as her, so I had to catch up with her constantly! It was really fun, as well as being incredibly hard work.”
Burgess emphasises the deceptively difficult process involved in bringing comedic work to the stage.
“Comedy is a lot of hard work, and I think it’s really good to know that we’re not just improvising,” she says.
“Everything you see has been trialled… It’s so well-oiled and tried and tested. Comedy is hard work…. You have to adhere to the rhythm, otherwise you’re not paying homage to the writer.”
Fortunately for the cast, their hard work paid off, as Melbourne audiences and critics alike praised the Australian premiere of Bad Jews (you can read Theatre People’s own review of the Melbourne premiere here).
One piece of feedback the cast received from a female patron particularly stands out for Burgess.
“She said, ‘ I don’t know if I like it. It just reminds me of my family,’ Burgess says.
“I think that’s my favourite because that means we’re doing the right job. We are living, breathing human beings who you can relate to, so that’s the best compliment.”
Angelico was impressed by the diversity reflected in the Melbourne audiences.
“Lots of people who don’t normally go to the theatre [were] coming along, and I find that really thrilling. People were saying, ‘I never see plays, but this was great!’”
Angelico and Burgess are both excited now for Sydney-siders to have their first Bad Jews experience.
“Every city has a different energy, and it’ll be great to see how Sydney receives it,” Burgess says.
Among those attending in Sydney will be writer Joshua Harmon, who’ll be seeing the Australian production for the first time.
“He’s an incredible playwright, so it’s going to be really exciting to show him our interpretation,” Angelico says.
Theatre People asked Angelico and Burgess why theatre lovers in Sydney should come along and see Bad Jews.
“You will laugh, you may cry. You’ll have a great night at the theatre,” Burgess says.
“You’ll want to have a wine or a coffee afterwards and talk with your friends. It’s a great night out with friends and family. It’s just fun!”
“It’s like watching an argument for an hour,” Angelico says.
“Whenever there’s an argument, everyone loves afterwards saying, ‘You know what? I think he shouldn’t have said that’ and ‘She should’ve said that’. Everyone loves putting in their two cents, and I feel like this play is that – it’s like watching an argument and forming your own opinion and enjoying it, but it’s all fun because it’s in the theatre.”
BAD JEWS – SYDNEY SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Everest Theatre, Seymour Centre
Dates: May 18th – June 4th
Performance Times: Tuesday to Saturday 8pm, Saturday 3pm, Sunday 5pm
Premium Adult $71
Premium Concession $61
A Reserve Adult $61
A Reserve Concession $51
B Reserve Adult $56
B Reserve Concession $49
*Booking fees apply