Laura Pels Theatre
Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre
111 West 46th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through December 22, $89
Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews has made a relatively smooth transition from the Roundabout’s small Black Box Theatre, where it played to sold-out crowds last year, to the significantly larger upstairs Laura Pels, going from 62 to 424 seats nightly. The dark comedy has lost a bit of its intimacy — in the Black Box, the audience felt like it was practically part of the family, waiting for breakout star Tracee Chimo to pounce on them the way she pounced on just about everything and everyone else in sight — but Harmon’s sharp, incisive dialogue is given more room to breathe in the new environs. In an apartment on Riverside Dr. and Eighty-Fourth St., Daphna Feygenbaum (Chimo) and her cousin Jonah Haber (Philip Ettinger) are awaiting the arrival of Jonah’s older brother, Liam (Michael Zegen), who was skiing in Colorado and missed their beloved grandfather Poppy’s funeral. When Liam shows up, along with his shiksa girlfriend, Melody (Molly Ranson), he and Daphna immediately start going at it, verbally sparring over every little detail, from who was closer to Poppy to who is more Jewish to who deserves to have Poppy’s prized chai, which is loaded with historical and sentimental value. With Jonah trying to stay out of the fray, Daphna has plenty of vitriol for Melody as well. A flurry of things are said (and shouted and screamed) that can never be taken back, leading to a powerful, emotional climax. Returning director Daniel Aukin (4000 Miles, The Bad and the Better) once again centers the action on Daphna, as Chimo, despite appearing to be fighting a cold the night we attended, stomps all over the stage, her physicality matching her spoken massacre in an awe-inspiring, unforgettable performance. Zegen has upped the ante as Liam, more than holding his own against his brutally honest and often thoughtless cousin. Ranson, the only actual Jewish member of the cast, handles her role with great care, while Ettinger is again excellent as the tentative, ever-jittery younger brother. Ultimately, Bad Jews is about a lot more than how Jewish one is or who should get Poppy’s chai; it’s also about family, responsibility, class, dignity, culture, faith, and respect while focusing on a pair of selfish, self-righteous characters who might not be as far apart as they imagine.