Like a dip in an acid-laced bubble bath, Joshua Harmon’s “Bad Jews” at the Odyssey Theatre is as effervescent as it is corrosive, a brilliantly caustic play that frames serious issues of Jewish identity within a breathtaking blitzkrieg of dialogue that will make your eardrums smolder.
In Harmon’s play, an off-Broadway hit in 2013 that ran at the Geffen Playhouse in 2015, we meet the overbearing, opinionated Daphna (née Diana) Feygenbaum, a college student who has recently embraced her Jewishness with a vengeance. In town for the funeral of her grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, Daphna (played by Jeanette Deutsch) is camping out at the apartment of her cousins Liam and Jonah Haber (Noah James and Austin Rogers). The brothers’ well-heeled parents purchased the multimillion-dollar property, nicely evoked by scenic designer David Offner, for their sons.
Daphna can barely contain her comical resentment over the brothers’ casual acceptance of this luxury, but she has bigger fish to fry — namely, gaining possession of her grandfather’s chai, a golden necklace he kept hidden under his tongue during his incarceration in the death camps.
Daphna doesn’t know that the smugly atheistic Liam has the chai, which he intends to give as an engagement gift to girlfriend Melody (Lila Hood), who is cute, clueless and about as non-Jewish as can be. Outraged when she discovers Liam’s plan for the family heirloom, Daphna launches harsh words that inspire Liam to respond in cruel kind.
Daphna, a fanatical Jewish ideologue, and Liam, an equally zealous secularist, are evenly matched in intellectual capacity and below-the-belt verbal jabs. Theirs is a dazzling dialectic — a sort of Talmudic argument as snarled by junkyard dogs. Meanwhile, Melody and Jonah hug the walls in mounting horror as the war of words rages.
Director Dana Resnick delivers a comically acute production that goes gleefully over-the-top yet remains authentic. Deutsch and James are gloriously ill-tempered in their high-decibel exchanges, while Hood and Rogers are hilarious in their less showy turns.
Eventually, the horror of the Holocaust is brought to bear in one poignant gesture. It proves to be the one-two punch that elevates “Bad Jews” beyond the scathing to the devastating.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Where: Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through June 17. Additional performances at 8 p.m. May 9, May 17, May 30 and June 14
Info: (310) 477-2055, Ext. 2, www.OdysseyTheatre.com
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
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