By Stuart Nulman
When I caught the opening night performance of Joshua Harmon’s play “Bad Jews” last season at the Segal Centre, I couldn’t believe the ferocity that went on throughout the 90-minutes of its running time.
And it was all over three cousins who gather in a modest-sized New York City apartment (with a great view of the Hudson River) following the funeral of their beloved grandfather; the volatile battle of wits was between Daphna and her cousin Liam, who each want to inherit a precious family heirloom … their grandfather’s Chai necklace, which he kept hidden under his tongue while he was an inmate in a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust.
Daphna adamantly believes she is the rightful heir to the necklace, because she feels she is a “good Jew” because she strictly observes Jewish customs and traditions, and she is about to make aliyah to Israel after she graduates from college, so that she can marry her sabra boyfriend Gilad. Liam, who is just as determined – and stubborn – as his cousin, is not as observant as Daphna (after all, he missed his grandfather’s funeral because he was on his way back from a skiing vacation in Colorado, and didn’t even stay away from bread the previous Passover). However, he believes he should be the rightful heir to the necklace, because of the merit that he is the oldest of the three cousins, that his grandfather told him that he should have the necklace, and like his grandfather did, plan to use it in lieu of a ring to propose marriage to his Gentile girlfriend Melody (whom he brings along with him to New York for the shiva).
When I was invited to attend the remounting of “Bad Jews” as part of the Segal Centre’s 10th anniversary season, I was wondering if the play (which retained its original cast from last year) will still have its bite and sense of ferocity. The answer is a resounding “yes”; in fact, all four performers not only have retained it, but they also have brought it up a couple of notches to make it a highly intense, acid-laced theatrical experience that will leave you thinking about what really makes a “good Jew” or a “bad Jew”, and is a piece of jewelry (or any type of family heirloom) really worth tearing a family apart.
Perhaps the stand out performance that makes “Bad Jews” worth seeing a second time is that of Montreal actress Sarah Segal-Lazar as Daphna, who brings even more high energy to her character and her firm belief that she is a “good Jew”, especially her nervous energy-laden monologues that dominate the play, in which she adds more levels of self-righteousness, anger and sarcasm. And Segal-Lazar is terrifically matched blow-by-blow with Jamie Elman as Liam, who is her perfect foil. Best known for his hilarious web series “Yid Life Crisis”, Elman delivers a riveting performance as the headstrong Liam, who has his own perception of being a “good Jew”, and is determined never to give in to his equally stubborn cousin, especially when it comes to his inheriting his grandfather’s necklace and go ahead with his plans for it.
And the cast is superbly balanced with Jake Goldsbie as the reticent, conciliatory Jonah, and Ellen Denny as Liam’s girlfriend (and fiancée-to-be) Melody; they bring a somewhat sense of reason to the volatility between Daphna and Liam, not to mention deliver a lot of much-needed comic relief when the knives are drawn.
If you want to catch this ethical and ethnical battle royal that is “Bad Jews”, it’s playing at the Segal Centre until November 26.
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To mark the 100th anniversary of Federation CJA, the Segal Centre and the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre will present an original show filled with stories and songs that will recapture a century of life in the Montreal Jewish community called “A Century Songbook”, which will run for a brief run of only five performances from November 26 to 29 at the Segal Centre’s mainstage theatre.
Boasting a cast of 30 performers, and a six-piece live band, “A Century Songbook” will take the audience back in time as they witness 100 years’ worth of achievements, challenges, traditions and daily life within the Montreal Jewish community through song, dance and personal testimonies, from the massive wave of immigration, to community advocacy, to the Main, to the creation of the State of Israel. And the songs in the show’s repertoire will be performed in six languages: English, French, Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian and Amharic.
Tickets for “A Century Songbook” are $54, $45 for subscribers and $36 for children 12 years of age and under. For more information, or to purchase tickets for “A Century Songbook” or “Bad Jews”, call 514-739-7944 or go to www.segalcentre.org.