Writer: Josh Harmon
Director: Michael Longhurst
Reviewer: Bill Avenell
This is undoubtedly a clever play based around the old plot line of grieving, some more than others, relatives gathering after the funeral of a much-loved grandfather and squabbling over the disposition of the prized family heirloom. The twist in this case is that the family is Jewish and the heirloom is the grandfather’s ‘Chai’, miraculously kept safe during the Holocaust and used as an engagement token on his betrothal. This allows Josh Harmon to investigate, with the use of some clever dialogue, not only the tensions and humour that can arise from the well-rehearsed plot but also the various interpretations of what ‘being Jewish’ might mean in today’s society for three young members of a New York family.
Further scope for both tension and humour are provided by the setting of the piece, in this case magnificently done by Richard Kent, in an expensive but tiny studio flat in New York where the two grandsons, one with very Caucasian girlfriend, and their ‘uber-Jewish’ cousin must stay the night. Kent provides a realistic backdrop of overcrowded student luxury plus outside corridor which director Michael Longhurst uses to the full. Longhurst also manages to direct this performance at breakneck speed and with some very entertaining ‘choreography’ around the set.
You cannot fault the four cast members for lack of energy. With no interval and all of them on stage for the majority of the piece, this is high-intensity stuff. From the off, Ailsa Joy as the zealot Daphna harangues everyone in sight with a mixture of the neurotic and the deeply religious. Jos Slovik, as the quiet flat owner Jonah, plays the reluctant host enigmatically and Ilan Goodman, as the eponymous ‘bad jew’ Liam, exudes pent up frustration and suddenly released emotion from the moment of his entry. Not to be left out Liam’s wonderfully named girlfriend Melody, played by Antonia Kinlay, gives a show stopping and excruciatingly bad rendition of Summertime,which has nothing to do with Jewishness or family heirlooms.
So it is not restful. But nor is it to universal taste. The audience at Guildford appeared to be divided into two camps. Those who thought it a hilarious production, wonderfully acted with deeply meaningful undertones and those who, discomforted by the tension, bored by the constant repetitive overacting could find little to laugh at.
Perhaps it is necessary to have a knowledge of Judaism and things-Jewish to get the best out of it but it is probably not one easily forgotten and also not one to leave before the denouement.
Runs 30 April 2016 |Image: Nobby Clark