A rabbi, a skier, a college student and a blonde walk into an apartment. Sounds like the set-up for a bad joke, but for the Haber family, it’s just another family gathering, and at the end of the night, nobody’s laughing.
There’s no question about it: No one fights quite as dirty as family. Rivalry between relatives escalated into a knock-down, drag-out war about the nature of identity and the value of culture in GableStage’s darkly comic production of “Bad Jews.”
GableStage has developed a reputation for staging plays fresh from their debuts on the New York stage, and “Bad Jews” is no exception; its critically-acclaimed original Off-Broadway production at Roundabout Theatre closed less than a year ago.
In Julliard graduate Joshua Harmon’s bitingly comedic script, long simmering tensions in the younger generation of a Jewish family boil over when the patriarch’s funeral brings together three cousins in one New York studio apartment.
The trio could not be more different from each other. Daphna Feygenbaum (Natalia Coego) is an aspiring rabbi who is deeply connected to her heritage and dreams of moving to Israel and enlisting in the army. Liam Haber (David Rosenberg) is her polar opposite, an atheist pursuing a Ph.D. in Japanese cultural studies who is eager to sever all ties with his Jewish roots. Finally, there’s Jonah (Mark Della Ventura), a pushover who avoids conflict at all costs, but has a deeper side hidden below his doormat exterior.
Daphna and Liam have been at each other’s throats for years, but things finally explode between them when Liam not only misses the funeral and brings home his Gentile girlfriend Melody (Lexi Langs), but also refuses to yield his claim to a precious heirloom of their grandfather’s, a chai necklace, which Daphna desperately wants. What follows is 90 minutes of riveting ideological battle which will have audiences on the edge of their seats.
Chemistry is so often used to refer to romance onstage, but there’s no question that GableStage’s talented quartet of actors has it in spades. The crackling intensity between Langs and Rosenberg is thrilling to watch, and the four have crafted relationships that are so strong, it’s no stretch to imagine past family sparring matches. It’s a compliment to the cast to say that it feels like their characters have been treating each other this way for years.
“Bad Jews” is heavy on dialogue and light on physical action; with the exception of one somewhat clumsily executed altercation late in the play, the characters predominantly throw their punches with words, not fists. The cast more than handled the formidable challenge of what must have been pages of monologues, tearing into each diatribe with unbridled ferocity. Particular recognition is due to Langs and Rosenberg, each of whom absolutely dominated the stage and seized the audience’s attention when they were on the rampage.
The most challenging pieces of theatre refuse to give the audience all the answers. It is a credit to artistic director Joseph Adler’s direction that you can walk out of “Bad Jews” believing that any of the four characters deserved to have the chai. GableStage’s production will make you laugh, but it will also make you think, an increasingly rare but thrilling theatrical experience.
If You Go
What: “Bad Jews”
Where: GableStage, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables, Florida
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 21
Cost: $40-$55 ($15 student tickets are available on Thursday and Sunday nights)
For more information, call 305-445-1119 or visit gablestage.org.