Black Box Theatre
Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre
111 West 46th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Extended through December 30, $20
A family fight over a deceased patriarch’s treasured piece of jewelry is at the center of Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews, but the gripping, incisive play is about a whole lot more. Holocaust survivor Poppy has passed away, and his loved ones have gathered on the Upper East Side to say farewell — except for grandson Liam Haber (Michael Zegen), who has missed the funeral because he claims to have been stranded in Aspen without a cell phone while on a skiing vacation with his girlfriend, Melody (Molly Ranson). The play opens with Liam’s brother, Jonah (Philip Ettinger), and first cousin, Daphna Feygenbaum (Tracee Chimo), staying in the rather cramped studio apartment the Haber parents recently bought for their sons, which bothers Daphna, who is jealous of her relatives’ wealth. When Liam finally arrives with Melody in tow, the play explodes, as they argue viciously over just about everything, including that piece of Poppy’s jewelry, his gold chai. Their dispute is about much more than that, though, as it encompasses entitlement, Israel, love, what it means to be Jewish, and even the Holocaust. Daphna and Liam rail against each other, saying hurtful things they will never be able to take back — including Daphna brutally trashing the shiksa Melody — while Jonah tries to stay out of it, but his cousins won’t let him remain silent and neutral. Bad Jews is a verbal wonder; every word of Harmon’s play is carefully constructed and meaningful, performed by an outstanding quartet of actors. Director Daniel Aukin (4000 Miles, The Bad and the Better) turns Lauren Helpern’s cluttered set into a kind of boxing ring where the characters feel each other out and then jab, punch, duck, run, and defend with impressive skill. Chimo, unrecognizable from her role as Myrtle Mae in the recent Broadway revival of Harvey, gives a whirlwind tour-de-force performance as Daphna, a complex character who boldly and brashly speaks her mind and doesn’t care who she offends. Bad Jews might be about a Jewish family, but it could be about any family; you definitely don’t have to be a member of that religion, or any religion, to be blown away by its power.