Joshua Harmon’s play Bad Jews premiered in New York in 2013, and it has gone on to become a major comedic hit in the US and the UK, with a West End season. But it’s stirred up its fair share of controversy.
We asked Maria Angelico (who plays Daphna) about the Australian production, currently playing at the Seymour Centre.
Could you tell us a little bit about the play — obviously the title explains a lot, but what is it about?
Bad Jews is a hilarious play exploring how a family, the young generation in particular, deals with their opposing ideas on what traditions to carry on or let go of after the death of the family patriarch “Poppy”. It’s set in real time, in one apartment over one night between three cousins and the girlfriend of a cousin. The script is high stakes, fast-paced, incredibly witty, bold and funny and the characters are equally loveable and hate-able.
You play the “good jew” or the “real Jew” — what does that mean?
Ha! My Character Daphna would love being called the “Good Jew”! She definitely sees herself as that. Daphna wears her heritage like a badge of honor and strongly identifies with being Jewish. She’s very religious and very passionate about being so, so I guess that does put her in the “Good” Jew category … even though a lot of the time her behavior wouldn’t be regarded as good.
The show has been quite politically provocative overseas — the show’s poster was banned from the London underground — has it ruffled as many feathers here?
It was only when we first started running the play and I would tell people what I was working on, and their reactions to the title said it all. I’d find myself quickly having to assure them it’s not a racist play. I have to admit that when my agent first sent me the script I too was concerned … but once I was a couple of pages into reading it, I loved it and saw where playwright Josh Harmon is coming from. It’s not offensive at all, however the play itself is definitely bold. When I was leaving the theatre last week after a show a Jewish woman approached me waving her finger saying: “You’re in trouble”. I was terrified, I asked why, expecting to hear it was about the sensitive themes in the play, but she went onto say it was because my character Daphna makes fun of K-Mart and she’d been a loyal employee there for 35 years. I was SO relieved! It’s not a shy play, you could even call it shocking but it’s definitely not one that is offensive.
It’s about a very specific New York Jewish community — do Australian audiences get it?
For sure. I say constantly that this play could be called bad Italians or bad Australians in regards to its relatable nature. Yes, it’s set in Manhattan amongst a Jewish family but that is in no way exclusive to Jewish New Yorker audiences. Anyone who’s been with family behind closed doors will get it! I also think Australian audiences get it even more easily as a lot of us have grown up with stories of Jewish New Yorkers on our TVs; with shows like Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Nanny etc. One of the most common things people say who’ve seen it are “That is so my family” or “I know a girl just like Daphna” or “I just wanted to get up there and join in the argument.”
Has it been popular with the Jewish community in Australia?
The play has been extremely popular and warmly received by the Jewish community. The post-show responses from them have at times been overwhelming. There has been constant and enthusiastic recognition of many moments in the play, with sincere and heartfelt emotion. Mostly, though the Jewish community seems to love to have a laugh at themselves, and to have a riotously fun night out.