Review: ‘Bad Jews’ at Maryland Ensemble Theatre

Maryland Ensemble Theatre (MET) launches into its new season with fabulous flare, opening with lauded young playwright Joshua Harmon’s critically-acclaimed, off-Broadway drama/comedy hit Bad Jews.

Shea-Mikal Green (Daphna) and Julia Becker (Melody). Photo by Joe Williams.

Shea-Mikal Green (Daphna) and Julia Becker (Melody). Photo by Joe Williams.

Smartly staged (by Stage Manager Rachel Smith) and dexterously designed (by Set Designer Todd Mazzie), the 90-minute play takes place in a cramped studio apartment on New York’s Upper West Side where four twenty-somethings, three cousins, plus one girlfriend, spend an uncomfortable night, following the death of “Poppy” their Holocaust-survivor grandfather and most “important family member”.

Sparks fly when the question of who should get Poppy’s chai necklace, symbolically etched “life,” that was saved from his concentration camp years is raised, bringing to the forefront deep-seated issues, bitterness, and resentment over money, social status, and religious devotion that has long plagued the extended family.

Biting, yet poignant and uproarious, Bad Jews succeeds in readily engaging the audience from the get-go, which is enhanced throughout the production with Gené Fouché’s ardent direction of four tremendously talented actors in the intimately close confines of the MET with measured comedic timing, tension and authenticity.

From the moment Fouché directs the audience’s gaze to the compact one-bedroom where reticent Jonah (Matt Lee) is attempting to contain Daphna (Shea-Mikal Green), his fire-spitting cousin to when verbal assaults are aggressively hurled between Liam (Jeremy Myers) and Daphna over who should have the chai, the four-member ensemble exudes a compelling chemistry and indefatigable energy that thrives.

Shea-Mikal Green (Daphna),Jeremy Myers (Liam),

Shea-Mikal Green (Daphna), Matt Lee (Jonah), Julia Becker (Melody), and Jeremy Myers (Liam). Photo by Joe Williams.

Perfectly paced, the production features a superbly skilled cast:  Green is a sensational force of nature as Daphna, self-righteous, smug, overbearing, razor-tongued and insecure;  Myers, as the mercurial Liam, seldom has his rage under control, is hardly likable and seemingly selfish;  the passive, mild-mattered and non-confrontational Jonah, played by Lee, quietly exudes strength all while viscerally capturing the uneasiness that has permeated his apartment since Daphna’s arrival; and Julia Becker wonderfully completes the cast as all-American Melody who is remarkably naïve, delicate and kind (her operatic rendition of “Summertime” from Porgy & Bess was both penetrating and hilarious with Becker receiving a well-deserved round of applause at the end of it).

Powerfully provocative, elatedly enthralling, and savagely sidesplitting, MET’s production of Bad Jews is a rip-roaring roller coaster ride – a theatrical treat that thoroughly delights and ruminates, toggling between unbridled laughter to serious thought, from its start to long after its finish.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

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Bad Jews plays through October 9, 2016 at The Maryland Ensemble Theatre -31 West Patrick Street in Frederick, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 694-4744, or purchase them online.

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