‘Bad Jews’ Poses Question: What Does It Mean To Be Jewish?

Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company premiered their adaptation of Joshua Harmon’s “Bad Jews” directed by Hayley Finn last weekend with some hits and misses. The show, set in a swanky-but-small New York apartment the night after their grandfather’s funeral, has cousins Diana, Jonah, and Liam facing large and looming questions about what it means to be Jewish – especially in the face of losing their patriarch.

The play employs the main conflict between “Super-Jew” Diana and her secular cousin, Liam, as a way to show multiple valid perspectives on being Jewish. Each moment asks the audience a significant question about where they stand on issues that we, as a community, face today. Deeply personal questions about identity and legacy are left open to the audience to interpret and its powerful, ambiguous end invites us to carry on the conversation outside of the theatre. This production commendably combines entertainment value and opportunity for community discussion.

However, the playwright’s attempt to balance the opposing forces in the play by showing both Diana and Liam as multi-faceted characters feels thwarted by Michael Hanna’s one-note and aggressive portrayal of Liam. On the other hand, despite the overwhelming number of monologues she is tasked with, Miriam Schwartz gives a lively performance as Diana Feygenbaum. Her performance keeps the energy of the play heightened and the potentially exhausting amount of text moving and interesting.

Miriam Schwartz, Michael Torsch, and Michael Hanna are three cousins together on the evening of their grandfather’s funeral in "Bad Jews." Photo by Sarah Whiting

Miriam Schwartz, Michael Torsch, and Michael Hanna are three cousins together on the evening of their grandfather’s funeral in “Bad Jews.”
Photo by Sarah Whiting

Upon entering the theatre, you will hear a mix of alt-pop tunes like those in a coffee shop reflecting both the station in life of the characters on stage and of the anticipated audience of the play. This play does feel especially relevant to audiences in their 20s and 30s who are currently considering their own Jewish identities. In a very astute move by MJTC, they are combining their May 12 performance with a 20s and 30s night which features discounted tickets and a chance to meet the cast.

The set and lighting designs serve the play admirably. The light blue and neutral brown tones of the set allow for the actors and the text to stand out. The pie-shaped stage at MJTC must be quite the challenging, but the designers take full advantage of the space.

Overall, this is a production worth seeing both for entertainment value, and for the conversations it will start within our community.

Bad Jews plays through May 22 at the Minnesota Jewish Theater Company.
For tickets, order online at badjews.brownpapertickets.com
or call 651-647-4315.

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This position was made possible in part with support from the Howard B. & Ruth F. Brin Jewish Arts Endowment, a fund of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation’s Foundation, and Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council, an initiative of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.

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