Bad Jews: The Battle for the Chai

Play Review by: Peter Foldy

Three young cousins and a significant other spend the night together in a small apartment after the funeral of their beloved grandfather, a holocaust survivor they all call “Poppy” in Joshua Harmon’s BAD JEWS, currently playing at the Oddysey Theatre in West L.A.

Daphna (Jeanette Deutsch), is an observant “good Jew” who cannot wait to marry her Israeli boyfriend and move to Israel to further her Jewish education. Her cousin, Liam, (Noah James) an avowed secularist and a self-described “Bad Jew” is a graduate student who studies Japanese culture. Liam loaths Daphna. Finds her tedious, arrogant and toxic. He doesn’t buy into her rabbinical posturing and pious grandiosity. Daphna is jealous of Liam’s family money. She judges him to be a self-loathing Jew who is willing to give equal creadance to every culture, every race and religion, except his own.

Noah James, Lila Hood and Jeanette Deutsch in “Bad Jews”

Adding fuel to the volatile mashup is the fact that Liam has just returned after a ski trip with his blond, non Jewish girlfriend, the sweet but ditzy Melody (Lila Hood). Liam had dropped his phone from a chairlift, missing Poppy’s funeral, barely making it back for the Shiva, a traditional gathering of family and friends.

Before long the evening implodes into a free for all. Everyone fights like savages. Liam’s mild mannered brother, Jonah (Austin Rogers) tries to keep the peace but the insults soon escalate to physical violence.

Lila Hood, Jeanette Deutsch in “Bad Jews”

The prize they are fighting for is a Chai, a necklace that Poppy had hidden under his tongue during the Holocaust and later used as a ring of sorts to propose to his wife. Now that he is gone, both Liam and Daphna feel they deserve the heirloom. Liam wants to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and use it to propose to Melody, a woman he says he truly loves.

Daphna is of course mortified. The Chai is a beloved and valued symbol of Judaism, not to mention a cherished memory of their late grandfather. The fact that a Shiksa should wear it around her neck almost makes her physically ill.

The writing in “Bad Jews” is brilliant. It’s as poignant as it is hillarious. It’s clear to see why this play has been performed all over the world since it’s New York premier in 2012. The story works on many levels. On the one hand it’s an examination of family that resonates, regardless of your beliefs or your religion. On the other it’s a timely examination of modern Jewish beliefs and attitudes; of what it means to be a Jew in an age where young people are far more open and accepting of other cultures than in years gone by.

Lila Hood, Austin Rogers, Jeanette Deutsch and Noah James fight it out in “Bad Jews”

Performances here are exceptional. Noah James hits a slam dunk as Liam. His character is filled with rage while overflowing with love. It’s a moving moment when he states that his girlfriend, Melody, is a song. Those simple words, delivered from the heart, validates Liam’s point of view and wins us over.

Jeanette Deutsch is force to be reckoned with. She plays Daphna’s strenghts and weaknesses even-handedly, and by the show’s conclusion you feel sympathy for this strong willed young woman who is also just following her heart. Deutsch gives a memorable performance.

Lila Hood is a perfect Melody. She is the peacekeeper here, trying to stop tempers from coming to a boil. Hood makes us accept Melody’s shortcomings in the intelectual department and brings a certain kindness as well as a and a much needed balance to this explosive storyline.

Austin Rogers is the quiet one as Liam’s brother, Jonah. While he doesn’t have a lot to do, his final reveal is touching and unexpected.

Director, Dana Resnick keeps the dialogue-heavy piece moving at a clip. The play runs 95 minutes but flies by, while never losing your interest. With such a short running time I was stunned to hear so many cell phones ringing during the performance, despite the pre-show announcement asking people to silence their devices. The annoyance even managed to stop the show for a moment till the offending phone was shut off. If that’s not enough, there was also a whispered conversation going on behind me that drove me crazy.

Despite some bad audience members, “Bad Jews” is a powerful, impressive play that will stay with you long after the curtain comes down. I’m already looking forward to revisiting it again before it closes in June.

When: Performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. from through June 17.

On Sunday, April 22 only, the performance will be at 5 p.m. with no 2 p.m. matinee.

Additional weeknight performances are scheduled on Wednesday, May 9; Thursday, May 17; Wednesday, May 30; and Thursday, June 14, all at 8 p.m.

Talkbacks with the cast follow the performances on Wednesday, May 9; Friday, May 18; and Sunday, May 27.

Tickets: From $30 to $35;

There are three “Tix for $10” performances on Friday, April 27; Wednesday, May 30; and Thursday, June 14.

The third Friday of every month is wine night at the Odyssey: enjoy complimentary wine and snacks and mingle with the cast after the show.

The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025. For reservations and information, call (310) 477-2055 or go to www.OdysseyTheatre.com

Photos by: Enci Box