Congratulations to our friend, Max Michael Miller, for his featured role in "BAD JEWS" -- a comedy-drama now playing at the Long Wharf in New Haven. (For a brief while, Max was an intern @ our New York office.)
Here's a review of the show:
Long Wharf Presents A Provocative, Comedy Drama In 'Bad Jews'
The show: "Bad Jews" at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven.
First impressions: Daphna Feygenbaum is a good Jew in Joshua Harmon's fiercely funny and provocative comedy-drama that made a splash last year off-Broadway and is now getting its first Connecticut production. No, make that a great Jew, a Jew who is impassioned about the religion's history and culture, a Jew who knows Hebrew, a Jew who went to Israel, a Jew who feels she had a claim on the family chai, a gold ornament rich with meaning.
At least that's how she sees it and if anyone dares to challenge this Judaic eminence, woe are they. As played by Keilly McQuail, Daphna, who is at the center of Harmon's play, is a force of nature.
First of all, do you have to be…: …Jewish to love this play? No. Anyone who has been in the midst of a family gathering during tense times — a death in the family member, which is the case here — will relate to the work.
And the title?: It's comically intended and refers to self-mocking judgment that Jews confer on themselves for not being sufficiently observant.
What's it about?: Three college-age cousins are crashing at a Manhattan studio apartment where they are staying following the funeral of their beloved grandfather, a Holocaust survivor. One cousin, the above-mentioned Daphna — though raised with the more goyish monicker Diana, as in Princess — is determined to have her grandfather's chai that he kept hid under his tongue for two years when he was in a concentration camp.
The grandfather left no will so Daphna is now maneuvering to be the one to get the chai that she says has profound meaning for her and seemingly little to her two cousins. After all, she says she is planning to move to Israel and has a boyfriend who is serving in the Israeli Army and is clearly the most observant Jew among the grandchildren.
Mild-mannered cousin Jonah (Max Michael Miller) doesn't want to get involved in any conflicts over the ornament and pretty much stays on the sidelines. But his older brother Liam (Michael Steinmetz) — who has shown only disdain for his religion and has missed the funeral because he was skiing in Vail with his girlfriend — already has it in his possession and intends to keep it from his insufferably holier-than-thou cousin.
More appalling to Daphna is that he intends to offer the chai as an engagement offering to his shiksa intended, Melody (Christy Escobar).
Uh-oh: Right. But because the battling protagonists Daphna and Liam are smart (she's at Vassar, he's working on his Ph.D on Japanese cultural studies) they are also sharply funny, too. Each knows where the other's weak spots are, baiting, taunting and finally devastating each other.
Caught in the crossfire and often wounded by verbal shrapnel — but not without significant moments of their own — are passive Jonah and the sweet-and-seemingly-dim Melody.
Reservations?: The play is so verbally fierce that Harmon doesn't allow too much down time between the next wave of acrimony and at times it's exhausting. There's a moment that all three grandkids share a funny family memory that for a time shows there was (is?) a close bond among them. But it's a brief interlude before the ferocity begins anew. You also wonder with that kind of family savagery going on, why doesn't anyone just get the hell out of that apartment and just get a hotel room?
Highlights: The character of the ironically named Melody singing an off-key, musically challenged rendition of "Summertime."
And the cast?: Under Oliver Butler's direction, you'd swear this group were related in their abilities to annoy, infuriate and needle each other so convincingly. McQuail is both fierce and funny as the formidable Daphna. You can almost see the wheels whirling in her head as she strategizes anew with each wave of attack but also see her insecurities, too.
Steinmetz is a worthy combatant, too, but taking a more controlled and reasoned approach — until he no longer can. Miller is likably low-key as the passive cuz and Escobar looks properly terrified — but not without strength of her own — as the not so gentle gentile.
Who will like it?: Jews. And people who love them. Those who like a powerfully strong and intellectually honest battle of beliefs.
Who won't: Those who feel the themes hit too close to home.
For the kids?: The smart ones, sure, especially those who like debating society in high school.
Twitter review in 140 characters sir less: Observant comedy-drama keeps the faith.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot: Whether it's Arthur Miller's "The Price": or August Wilson's "The Piano Lesson," a family's battles over its past and its legacy resonate no matter whose family it is. After all, what family doesn't have its own mishegas? Harmon's play is a worthy entry into that familiar familial genre.
The basics: The show runs through March 22 at Long Wharf's Stage II at 222 Sargent Drive in New Haven. The running time in 90 minutes with no intermission. Information at 203-787-4282 and longwharf.org.