Bad Jews, presented by the Koffler Centre in Toronto, is a “terrific night at the theatre”
Despite the promise of its name, Bad Jews is a great play — a darkly compelling family drama presented by the Koffler Centre of the Arts. Throughout the evening, I was captivated by the play’s unflinching exploration of the intersections of family, identity, and the Jewish faith.
Bad Jews takes place as Jonah (Dan Krantz), Daphna (Rebecca Applebaum), Liam (Kristopher Turner), and Melody (Julia Vally) gather after the passing of a family patriarch. Although the plot centers on the possession of a crucial heirloom, it also reaches deep into the personal and cultural histories of the characters. I found Bad Jews to be compelling, terribly truthful, often very funny, and unafraid to ask the big questions about identity and inheritance.
The complexity of the characters was bolstered by stellar work from the entire cast, including a standout performance from Applebaum. I was spellbound by the intensity and emotional variety that Applebaum brought to her demanding role. As Liam, Turner’s moments of anger were truly terrifying, but he also managed to convey vulnerability. Vally brought an appealing sincerity to her role as Melody, rescuing the character from the edge of stereotype. Finally, Krantz was excellent as the under-communicative, barely-holding-it-together Jonah. My friend Manu greatly appreciated the restraint and barely suppressed emotion that Krantz brought to his presence onstage.
In terms of plot, I admire Bad Jews for its willingness to push boundaries. As the evening heated up — both onstage and off, since the theatre space became rather warm by the end of the evening — the characters pushed each other further and further toward their limits. Bad Jews isn’t afraid to make their characters go there, whether “there” is an attack on personal identity, religious obligation, or the myriad of other weapons the characters used against each other.
Bad Jews is vicious, but I thought it stayed grounded in reality; the play did a great job of laying out the characters’ different points of view, so I always knew where their cruel words and clashes of perspective were coming from. The high tension of this play was also broken up by moments of humour that had everyone laughing; my favourite was the sequence in which Daphna coaxes (and coerces) Jonah into making plans to visit her.
Finally, the realism of the writing was assisted by the excellent set and lighting design, which made the stage feel like a real apartment. As Manu said, “This set is nicer than my actual apartment!” The set managed to feel permanent — real curtains, heavy cabinets that you would find in any kitchen — and this made Bad Jews feel even more grounded in the real world. If you’re looking for a thoughtful but intense family drama, look no further: Bad Jews is a terrific night at the theatre.
- Bad Jews is playing until June 4, 2017, at Small World Music Centre (180 Shaw Street).
- Shows run Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm, with an additional 2 pm showing on Saturday and a 2 pm matinee on Sunday; see website for details.
- Tickets are $30 for general admission and $25 for youth, seniors, and arts workers; tickets can be purchased online or through the box office at 647-925-0643
Bad Jews/Koffler Centre of the Arts, photo by Dahlia Katz