Cousins battle for chai necklace at heart of Bad Jews

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Don’t let the title “Bad Jews” throw you. There’s plenty to like — and lots of laughs — in the production, says Argo Thompson, the artistic director of Left Edge Theatre. 

“The show examines what it means to be Jewish in today’s society, what is acceptable and what is not — that’s where the fun and the anguish come in. Plus, the show is super-smart and funny, and packs a punch at the end.”

Left Edge is performing Joshua Harmon’s dark comedy through Dec. 4 at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. During its Off-Broadway run in 2013, the New York Times called the show “the best comedy of the season.”

Cast members (from left) Dean Linnard, Katee Drysdale, Emily Kron and Brady Morales-Wollery photo/ajreilly

In the play, three cousins who have just lost their grandfather argue about which of them is entitled to his chai pendant necklace. Daphna wants it, and boasts about having an Israeli boyfriend, while Liam insists he needs the necklace so he can give it to his non-Jewish girlfriend. Jonah, the third cousin, is the least assertive of the three.

“All the characters are grieving in different ways and they all have different ideas about what is fair and who deserves what,” Thompson said. “I think some people can relate to that.”

Phoebe Moyer, the show’s director, said each character has a valid position, which they express in monologues. “As I see the actors rehearse, I keep switching sides, being persuaded by the different characters,” she said. “I think the audience will too, and that’s what is so interesting.” Moyer is a veteran Bay Area actor and director.

Katee Drysdale, Emily Kron, Dean Linnard and Brady Morales-Woolery are in “Bad Jews.” Drysdale and Morales-Woolery are based in Northern California. Kron and Linnard, who are both Jewish, traveled from New York to be in the show.

“The role of Daphna is totally worth coming to a beautiful part of the country to do this play, which is amazing on many levels,” said Kron. She first saw “Bad Jews” when it premiered in New York, and she has wanted to do the show ever since.

In dealing with some of the larger themes in the play, Harmon “grapples with faith in the contemporary sense,” Kron said, “but more than that — faith also in terms of what we believe in that drives our moral system, our sense of identity. Daphna is holding onto her sense of identity because for her, without it there is nothing.”

Linnard, who plays Liam, described the play as “a three-course meal for actors.” He said, “It feels personal to me, very intimate and special, since my character is my age, my religion, talks in roughly the same vernacular and circles around many of the topics that dominate my real-world thoughts and conversations.”

Left Edge subscribers helped choose “Bad Jews” for the North Bay theater company’s 2016-17 season. Each year, Thompson looks for plays that have not been produced in Sonoma County and that were written within the past five or six years. He selects 10 plays and then holds a “season showcase” for subscribers.

“We present scenes from the 10 plays, and then the subscribers vote, whittling the list to five or six,” he said. “Bad Jews” was in the top five after the showcase held in April. Thompson said he did not expect to get the rights to do the show because it is so new. “It’s a hot commodity — but we got it,” he said.

Left Edge Theatre traces its beginnings back to the Actors’ Theatre of Sonoma, which Thompson joined in 1997. The company thrived for 20 years and then merged with the Santa Rosa Players to form the 6th Street Playhouse. Today, continuing the tradition of Actors’ Theatre, Left Edge’s mission is “to produce daring plays imaginatively staged for adventurous audiences.”

Moyer, who worked with Thompson some 15 years ago at Actors’ Theatre, thinks that “Bad Jews” is a great choice. “All families have territorial issues and also their own perception of what the generations before them stood for,” she said.

“It’s a reconciliation each generation has to go through to understand their history and how they fit in. This play is so funny and so frightening — and yet very moving, too.”

“Bad Jews,”
through Dec. 4 at Left Edge Theatre, Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. $25-$40.

Patricia Corrigan

Patricia Corrigan is a longtime newspaper reporter, book author and freelance writer based in San Francisco.