The new comedy at Capital Stage is titled “Bad Jews,” and it explores the nasty things relatives say to each other following the death of a family patriarch.
The show is quite funny, even as it puts manipulative behavior and nasty name calling at center stage. The premise behind this tense comedy is that an old grandfather — a Holocaust survivor — has just died, and now a battle royale is beginning over who will inherit a prized family heirloom with religious significance.
To make matters worse, the 20-something relatives in this play really don’t like each other. There’s a young guy named Liam who hates the way his cousin Daphna implies that she’s more religious than the others. Liam gets so nerved up that he can barely talk.
Liam: "You just watch. Any time there’s a prayer, or praying, she’ll get this look on her face, like I’m above all of you, like I’m on this spiritual enlightenment plane, way above … "
Daphna, for her part, does not approve of Liam’s blonde girlfriend, Melody, who isn’t Jewish. And when Daphna and Melody sit down for a chat, Daphne comes on strong with dismissive put-downs.
Daphna: "Well I will tell you why that is, and the reason why that is, and the reason that families like the one YOU come from can even live in Delaware, is that all those native peoples were slaughtered … So that people who look like you, and pray like you, and reproduce like you, could live in peaceful suburban housing developments with bookshelves filled with the King James Bible and Nicholas Sparks novels and ‘Eat. Pray. Love.’ Probably your favorite book! But no Howard Zinn. Am I right, or am I right?
Daphna also dishes family details regarding her cousin.
Daphna: "Has Liam ever told you his Hebrew name?"
Melody: "His Hebrew name? I don’t think so?"
Daphna: "Oh my God (laughs). Shlomo!"
These antagonistic relatives know all too well how to push each other’s buttons. To make matters worse, they are crammed together in a very small Manhattan apartment, so everyone can hear every insult, even from the bathroom.
Soon, Daphna and Liam are blasting each other, and this comedy of confinement becomes a demolition derby of denunciation. The rising outrage and abundant profanity are played for comic effect. But when the show ends — and it runs just 90 minutes — you feel bruised and breathless from the intensity.
Actress Tara Sissom, who’s generally been seen in comic parts, shows more dramatic range than we’ve seen before, while Bay Area actor Jeremy Kahn, a newcomer to Sacramento, does equally well as the manipulative Liam.
“Bad Jews” is a high-strung comedy staged as verbal combat with no holds barred, with religious implications. It’s a solid show, but it’s not exactly light-hearted summer fare. Steel yourself for cut-downs and conflict onstage, if you decide to go.
The Capital Stage production of “Bad Jews” continues through July 23.