The Jewish Community Theater of Montgomery County offers both musicals and plays that deal with the Jewish people, religion and values. As such, the next play on the theater’s agenda, presented in cooperation with Temple Beth Ami (TBA) Players, is right up its alley.
However, at the same time, said David Fialkoff, the community theater’s founder and artistic director, they realized its title might be misunderstood.
“Bad Jews,” a dark comedy by Joshua Harmon has become, since its opening at the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City in 2012, the third most widely produced play in the United States. It also has been nominated for or won several off-Broadway theater awards.
“The title does not suggest what you may think,” explained Fialkoff. “Bad Jews” is about a squabble over inheritance and more.
After a beloved grandfather dies in New York, leaving a treasured piece of religious jewelry he succeeded in hiding from the Nazis, three cousins fight over the heirloom. That leads to further conflicts over the nature of religious faith and observance.
During its extended run, Fialkoff, who is directing, saw the play and said he loved it, calling it “deliberately provocative.”
“It was very funny but also very thought-provoking,” he said. “And it’s very timely. The play asks, what does it mean to be religious and to go through trappings, or follow the (ethical) dictates of the religion? Do you need to follow laws and customs, or the Golden Rule?”
Also, despite the play’s title, this dilemma can apply to any religion, Fialkoff said.
Because the arguments among the cousins – one of whom has a non-Jewish girlfriend – at one point turn physical, the theater has brought in a fight coordinator.
Gemma Davimes is playing Daphna, one of the cousins, a role she said she longed for. She added that she has been enthusiastic about the play after reading the script and seeing a performance.
“It has such rich language, and is liberating and cathartic,” she said
The actor’s enthusiasm for role and play has made the hour-and-40-minutes travel time each way to and from her home in Virginia to rehearsals less onerous. Davimes describes her “character as very strong-willed and opinionated,” but also jealous of the girlfriend’s looks.
“The role of Daphna seemed right for me,” she said. “The other role is very funny, almost too nice. This gives me more of a range.”
Davimes, who is not Jewish, said she is nonetheless sensitive to possible reactions and the controversial nature of the piece.
“A Jewish friend I saw it was more uncomfortable with it,” she said. “But a lot of people will find it satisfying. For me, the play is appealing in that it doesn’t take sides, but leaves it up to the audiences.”
“Bad Jews,” she added, made it to Israel a few years ago and received “amazing reviews.”
Davimes also mentioned a coincidence related to “Bad Jews.”
Meredith Rettner-Dayhoff, who is Melody, the other female character, was a neighbor of the playwright’s growing up. “So, it’s one degree of separation,” said Davimes.
The other cast members are Cor Estoll as Liam and Ari Srabstein as Jonah.
Advisory: The play contains strong language, which may be realistic among young quarreling young adults, Fialkoff said.
There are two performances only, Saturday, June 29 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, June 30, at 1 p.m. at Temple Beth Ami, 14330 Travilah Road, Rockville. “Bad Jews” is presented by special arrangement with Samuel French Inc., a ConcordTheatricals Company.