“The Dead Hand of the Past”: I Review “Bad Jews”

“The Dead Hand of the Past”: I Review “Bad Jews” December 8, 2014

at Studio Theatre:

Jaroslav Pelikan declared, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” But it can be hard to tell which one you’re actually doing.

Bad Jews,” at the Studio Theatre through December 28, takes place over a few hours in one tiny (but pricey) New York apartment. Cousins Daphna, Jonah, and Liam are reunited on the night after their grandfather’s funeral. (So big, even Abe Foxman was there!) Liam has also brought an outsider: the blonde, beatifically-smiling Melody (Maggie Erwin), a 1950s Coca-Cola ad of a person, whose sunny shiksa demeanor couldn’t be more of a contrast to the rest of his family.

Most of these people are awful in their different ways. Daphna (Irene Sofia Lucio) has burrowed into her Judaism like a tick, swelling with the righteous blood of the Jewish dead. At no point does her faith make her act better. We never see her pray; we never see her give up anything she really wants in order to follow God. In fact, God isn’t mentioned. She’s catty and racist, and she’s appointed herself to defend the family’s religious and ethnic heritage against the lukewarm assimilationism of Jonah and Liam.

This allows Daphna to get off some great lines. She pegs Liam as a type we’ve all encountered, who loves any tradition as long as it’s somebody else’s. She calls him “proud of how disdainful he is” toward his heritage.

“Oh, if you found yourself in the middle of a rain dance, you’d be perfectly respectful,” she rants, prancing around the apartment in her imitation of a Native American ceremony. “But if you find yourself in the middle of a hora—I’ve seen you in the middle of a hora!—you want to die.”

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