The hottest show in New York last year, award winning Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon, makes its Australian premiere at The Alex Theatre St. Kilda later next month. The all Australian production promises a night of ferocious verbal fire as Harmon explores what it means to be Jewish in today’s world.
Actor Maria Angelico plays Daphna who represents an unquestioning belief in faith, tradition and ritual. Angelico describes her as headstrong, intelligent, quick witted, desperate, charming, sarcastic, bitter and bloody hilarious. “She is not afraid of confrontation; in fact I think she thrives on it,” says Angelico.
“Personally, I’m completely different to Daphna in a lot of ways, but I do admit I find it easy to push the buttons of my family. I think we all have the capacity to trigger and be triggered by one another, especially the ones we love. Sometimes it’s hard work to avoid it, so to play a role that allows me to really unleash every night and then home knowing no feelings were hurt will be quite a treat!”
The play has been described as devastatingly funny, and supported by Harmon’s scalding rhetoric, it becomes easy to see why this little play became a big hit on both Broadway and the West End.
It is the night after their grandfather’s funeral and three cousins are engaging in a verbal (and sometimes physical) battle. Daphna Feygenbam considers herself a “Real Jew”; Liam is secular with a shiska girlfriend, Melody. And stuck in the middle somewhere is Liam’s brother, Jonah, who does his best to stay out of it. The fire ignites when Liam stakes claim to their grandfather’s Chai (basically a Jewish symbol meaning life or survival) necklace. Questions – and battles – concerning family, faith and legacy ensue.
This ferocious domestic drama raises important public and cultural issues. Says Angelico: ” I believe Joshua Harmon wrote the Bad Jews to explore the relationship younger generations have to their cultural pasts and how its one mixed with desires of holding on and letting go. As well as the obvious family theme, the play also explores class, race and growing up. Daphna is a force in the play. She brings a lot of these themes to the light as she is the most desperate to find clarity and identity.”
Angelico is a graduate of 16th Street Acting Studio and has studied with Larry Moss and Ivana Chubbuck as well as the Actors Studio’s Elizabeth Kemp. She has been working steadily since her teens and credits include: Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Under a Red Moon, Hating Alison Ashley, Wentworth, Rush, City Homicide and We Can Be Heroes. She came to be involved with bad Jews ” the good old-fashioned way; my agent sent me the script, I learnt my lines and auditioned.”
The play is being lead by talented director, writer, dramaturge and actor Gary Abrahams. This is Angelico’s first time under Abrahams direction but, she says, is very much looking forward to the experience. “After spending only a short time with Gary in the audition room I felt a buzz as we got to work and play with the story, which is the best kind of experience in my books. I believe the writing is in very good hands!”
While Bad Jews was written by a young American Jewish man and set in an American Jewish household in New York, you certainly do not have to be either Jewish or American to enjoy this show.
Harmon talks about the universality of his themes – that “what makes the play specific is actually what makes it universal, and that the questions the play raises will speak to audiences in Melbourne.”
Angelico agrees, saying: “Yes Bad Jews is written about American Jews, by an American, but that’s not to say it’s exclusive to American audiences. It’s a story about Family and history, which is universal. Anyone with a past family story will relate to what the characters face in the play and be able to laugh along the way.”
And laugh they will! Angelico feels it’s almost impossible to pick a favourite line in the play because it’s such a great script, jam packed with absolute gems! But one of them would definitely be when Daphne is describing her cousin Liam’s new Girlfriend and says, “ She looks like she was conceived and fucking live water birthed at Talbots!” (A conservative department store). “I love the line because it’s a perfect example of Daphna’s ability to remain witty whilst ripping poor melody or anyone for that matter to shreds.”
Harmon’s script tackles memory, identity and experience with outrageous behaviour and insults – his script is clever, funny and fearless. It’s a must see play!
August 27 – September 13
Alex Theatre St Kilda