View Our Facebook PageView Our Facebook PageView Our Facebook Page
Your Guide to Cultural
Arts in America
Art Museums, Theater, Dance
& Music Happenings in 90+ Cities!
or go to
Arts America Blogs

BAD JEWS, bad title, bad script at Actors’ Summit

BAD JEWS, bad title, bad script at Actors’ Summit


Roy Berko

Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle


Shortly into Actors’ Summit’s production of BAD JEWS, several things become obvious.  The off-setting title was not only a turn-off for many, but was misleading.  Secondly,  author Joshua Harmon, self-admitted stumbler into the world of playwriting, may need a re-thinking about his career.


On the surface, the play has been described as a black comedy about family, faith and legacy.  It definitely is about family.  More specifically about the role of egocentricism and attempts to control other family members through manipulation for personal gain.  As for the faith and legacy, those are questionable.


The action centers on three cousins, and the girl friend of the oldest cousin, Liam, who are forced to share an efficiency apartment in New York, to commemorate the death of their beloved grandfather, “Poppie.”  A Holocaust survivor, he went through much of his concentration camp survival, as the tale is told, hiding a gold “chai” under his tongue.


“Chai,” is a combination of two Hebrew letters, “Chet” and “Yod,” which represent being  alive or living, and has been made into a visual symbol, usually a gold amulet worn on a chain around the neck.  It can be worn by both men and women, as a symbol of the word of God and for good luck. It  also represents the number 18, a good luck number in Hebrew tradition.


Two cousins, Daphna and Liam, both want Poppie’s “chai.”   Daphna, who purports to be the “most  Jewish” of the cousins, has studied the religion, practices and traditions of the faith, is supposedly moving to Israel after she graduates from college.  Liam has spent most of his life distancing himself from his cultural traditions, including getting an advanced degree in Japanese culture, and dating numerous non-Jewish girls.  He shows disdain for family by going skiing in Aspen rather than attending Poppie’s funeral and showing up with his Christian girl friend to sit “Shiva” (the mourning period for the dead). He wants the “chai” to use as a substitute for an engagement ring, much as Poppie did when he asked their grandmother to marry him.


The third cousin Jonah, is passive (or maybe, passive aggressive), wanting not to get involved in the family feud.   He has nothing to gain from the “chai” battle.


The action centers on a constant war of attack and nasty accusations between Daphna and Liam, as each displays their insecurities.  Two selfish people in a fight for dominance.


It is from this conflict, while fighting over an symbol of their religion, and a family heirloom, that the duo become “bad Jews.”  Jews behaving badly.


Tradition and family are two of the most important Jewish values, and these are thrown to the wind in the war for dominance and satisfying selfish desires.


The Actors’ Summit production is burdened with a poorly conceived script. Many of the lines are written in “written,” rather than “spoken” English, making the characters caricatures rather than theatrical characters, not real people.  The plot which is cellophane, easily seen through, and not very compelling.  Even the “startling” ending, doesn’t evoke much feeling.  The laughs are there, but in comedies the humor is often used to relieve stress or define the characters.  Except in the case of Jonah, BAD JEWS laughs don’t do this.


Director Constance Thackberry keeps the action moving right along and gets what she can from the script.


Nate Miller stars as Jonah.  Miller has a mobile face, a nice touch with comedy timing and plays “defeated” with the best of them.  He not only looks like Johnny Galecki, Leonard, of television’s GREAT BANG THEORY, but displays the same whipped dog face and body gestures.


Brittany Gaul does her best to make Daphna self-centered, manipulative and a teller of white lies.  Her oral presentation of choppiness of word flow, and awkward line interpretation, becomes annoying after a while.  It’s not clear as to why she, or the director, decided to take this presentation approach.


Kyle Huff stays right on the acting surface as Liam.  He often sounds unreal, saying words, not meanings.  Whether it’s the writing or the acting, I really didn’t care who won the battle of the “Chai.” I didn’t like either Daphna or Liam as characters or people.


Gabi Shook gives a creditable performance as the shallowly written Melody, who, as conceived, raises deep questions over why someone on his way to a doctorate would be interested in this Barbie-doll.  But maybe that’s the point.


The set, a well conceived New York efficiency with a view of the Hudson river, aids in setting the right mood.


Capsule judgement:  BAD JEWS is a poorly conceived play with a title that is a put-off for many and may well be misleading.


There are after-production discussions following some performances.  Check the theatre’s website for dates and panel members!

For tickets to BAD JEWS, which runs through May 3, 2015, call 330-374-7568 or go to