Good Job on Bad Jews

Donna Cormack-Thomson is currently starring as Melody in the return of Bad Jews at The Fugard Theatre.

The one-act play takes place inside a studio apartment after the funeral of Daphna, Liam and Jonah’s grandfather, “Poppy”. The Jewish cousins, along with Liam’s secular girlfriend, Melody, are forced to sleep the night crammed into the apartment. Things begin to fall apart when Daphna and Liam argue over who should inherit their Poppy’s Chai, a golden medallion symbolic of life in Jewish culture, which survived the Holocaust thanks to Poppy’s careful planning.

Daphna’s histrionic holier-than-thou attitude grates Liam who turns nasty, while Liam’s self-entitlement and abandon of Jewish faith drives Daphna to extremes. Passive observer, Jonah, who wants nothing more to extract himself from the situation, gets drawn between the pair, and Melody who just wants people to “be nice” is ridiculed by Daphna, her antithesis in every way.

Lara Lipschitz portrayal of Daphna was so authentic the character felt like a reincarnation of someone she had watched her whole life. Daphna had most of the dialogue for the play, mainly due to her constant nattering and meddling. Lipschitz skilfully brought out all the humour, making Daphna extremely irritating, but in the way she was written to be. Oliver Booth as Jonah hardly spoke in the play, but he was a master of the reaction throughout. Glen Biderman-Pam as Liam also brought a winning hand to the table with his perfect comedic timing. Finally, the latest addition to the Bad Jews cast, Donna Cormack-Thomson, was hilarious as dim-witted Melody. Her rendition of ‘Summertime’ from Porgy and Bess left the audience in stitches and the rest of the cast starring in horror.

This play is a perfect choice for a Cape Town audience, since many theatre goers here are Jewish. There were many Jewish ‘private jokes’ that went a little over my head, but were appreciated by the Jewish audience members.

The play is not only hysterical, but also has an underlying theme around identity that is important for anyone. First, identity is explored by pitting religious versus ethnic identity against each other using Daphna and Liam. This is often germane in Jewish culture, where people are Jewish by descent, but no longer consider themselves Jewish by religious practice.

Secondly, communal and individual identity is illustrated by comparing brothers, Liam and Jonah. Jonah doesn’t seem to have his own identity; his identity is found in others. This is illustrated throughout by him never having an opinion of his own, but most touchingly at the play’s conclusion when he reveals he has tattooed Poppy’s Holocaust numbers on his arm – an indication that his identity is formed communally by those close to him. Liam on the other hand is individualistic, to the point of selfishness, and he has rejected the Jewish faith, and to some extent, his community and constructed his own identity alongside Melody.

Although ultimately a comedy, Bad Jews is an excellent poignant play with an important message for audiences, Jewish or not. The show runs until 14 Jan, and you can book tickets here.

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