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Bad Jews

Bad Jews closes Off Broadway

Posted on: January 3rd, 2014 by Roundabout

 

After a sold out run at Roundabout Underground’s Black Box Theatre, Joshua Harmon’s hit comedy Bad Jews moved upstairs to the Laura Pels Theatre for our 2013-2014 Season. This production played a total of 100 performances from first preview on September 19 through the extended closing date of December 29. Original cast members Tracee Chimo, Philip Ettinger, Molly Ranson and Michael Zegen came back to our stage under the direction of Daniel Aukin.

 

Production image featuring Philip Ettinger, Molly Ranson, Tracee Chimo and Michael Zegen. Photo by Joan Marcus.

 

Bad Jews was named “the best comedy of the season” by The New York Times and  received rave reviews from The Huffington Post, New York Magazine, New York Post and Time Out New York. Audience members also raved about this riotous and poignant play; one couple said “we loved it for its humor, honesty and killer dialogue,” and another supporter told us it was “extraordinary–funny, sad and dynamic.”

Throughout the show’s run we asked audience members which character’s point of view they most identified with and why. We installed a display in the Bruce Mitchell Lobby inviting audience members to write a comment on a speech bubble and place it in support of "Team Daphna", "Team Liam", or "On the Fence" between the two.

 

Installation in the Bruce Mitchell Lobby.

After one month of performances the tally was  On the Fence – 39; Team Daphna – 30; Team Liam – 15 and after the show’s run our audiences were split between Daphna and On the Fence. Below are some audience responses we received.

Team Daphna

“As generous & touching as the gift to Melody was it should have stayed within the blood family.”

“Very romantic of Lima, but it is misplaced in view of the heritage of the chai”

On the Fence

“It’s about remembering their grandpa’s survival no matter what.”

Team Liam

“The more diverse our family and background is, the fabric of our society only gets richer and more complex”

“We are all humans and Melody should have the chai as much as Daphna”

Following the performance on October 24, Michael Schulman of The New Yorker hosted a talkback featuring leaders of NYC Faith Communities, Bad Jews playwright Joshua Harmon & actors Tracee Chimo, Philip Ettinger and Michael Zegen. The discussion also offered some very interesting insights on family, faith and legacy.

 

     

Did you see Bad Jews? Leave a comment below to let us know which side of the debate you were on.

 


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2013-2014 Season, Bad Jews


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Interview with Director, Daniel Aukin

Posted on: September 16th, 2013 by Roundabout

 

Education Dramaturg Ted Sod interviewed director Daniel Aukin to discuss his work on Bad Jews.

 

Ted Sod: Would you tell us a little about yourself?

Daniel Aukin: I was born in London. My father, David Aukin, was Artistic Director of several theatres, including the Hampstead Theatre in London, and he also ran the Haymarket in Leicester, England.  Later he ran the National Theatre with Richard Eyre. My mother, Nancy Meckler, is American and a theatre director. She has directed all over the UK and internationally. For about 20 years, she was the Artistic Director of the Shared Experience Theatre Company in London.

 

TS: How did you get involved with Bad Jews? Who approached you with the play?

DA: I was asked to read it and I thought it was an extremely personal, painful, and very funny piece of writing. At that point, Roundabout Underground had already committed to doing it. It just struck a huge chord for me. I first met with Josh at Robyn Goodman’s office. She was there as well as Jill Rafson, the Literary Manager at Roundabout, and Josh Fiedler, Robyn’s associate. We talked for a bit about the play and they told me about its development to date. They asked me some questions about it, how I responded to it. Then Josh and I went out and just had coffee and talked. That was really it. But as in all of these things, collaboration is a delicate thing and you just go with your gut.

 

TS: Can you talk about how the script resonated for you personally?

DA: I was instantly struck by what a confident voice Josh has as a playwright. The strength was apparent from the first pages. The play deals with the specifics of a very particular family and the legacy of the Holocaust on subsequent generations.  Yet I would never call it an “issue play.” It all feels very specific and pointed. He’s exploring many sides of a complicated issue. It deals with the legacy of history and how we live authentically in the present in relationship to the past. I also felt like it was a piece of writing—and you’d have to ask Josh if this is true—that the writer had to write, needed to write, and that he was using to try to understand something for and about himself.

 

TS: Can you talk about choosing and collaborating with your design team? How will the play manifest itself visually?

DA: For this play it seemed like the most important thing was for design to get out of the way. One of the considerations that we had when we were looking at floor plans of the apartment was: is it useful for there to be as much room as possible for the actors to move around in so that they can easily get from one section of the stage to another? Or is there greater value in there not being quite enough room for people to move around in, creating obstacles and difficulty? A lot of design meetings were spent talking about the family that bought this apartment and why they bought it, how long they’ve had it, what their income and socioeconomic background is, how they see this apartment and how it might be furnished to reflect all that. We looked at various moments in the play and tried to imagine how they might work in different configurations.

 

Tracee Chimo (Daphna), Philip Ettinger (Jonah), Molly Ranson (Melody) and Michael Zegen (Liam) in Bad Jews. Photo by Joan Marcus.

 

TS: I want to talk about the contrast between the characters of Liam and Daphna. What do you think motivates them?

DA: I don’t know if Josh would agree with this, and it may be too simplistic, but one way to look at it is that they’re both people who are trying to live very conscious lives and that means completely different things to each of them. To Daphna, that means a wholesale immersion in, and living through, what she understands as the legacy of her religion, and, I think, the Holocaust. Daphna sees that as a deeply authentic way to live and to be a conscious human. I think Liam might say that a lot of those things are empty of value and not meaningful to him. To pay lip service to something that isn’t meaningful to him would be inauthentic. So, in his own way, he’s living an authentic life even though to Daphna that comes across as a wholesale rejection of her choices. As a director, I’m looking to validate all of it.

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2013-2014 Season, Bad Jews


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Interview with Set Designer, Lauren Helpern

Posted on: September 16th, 2013 by Roundabout

 

Education Dramaturg Ted Sod spoke with Set Designer Lauren Helpern about her work on Bad Jews.

 

TS: Tell us a little about yourself. When did you decide to become a designer?

LH: I was born and educated here in Manhattan.  I went to college at Brown University, where I was in the theatre department, and then grad school at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.  I started going to theatre when I was very young.  It was considered a special treat, and we would get all dressed up.  We would go for my birthday or for other special occasions.  I saw some amazing productions, mostly musicals.  One of the reasons I fell in love with scene design was the first five minutes of the original production of Sunday in the Park with George – that was my “aha moment.”

 

Set design model: Lauren Helpern.

 

My father is an architect so I’ve always been exposed to building design and, at one point, I considered following in his footsteps.  I even did a summer program in architecture, but I realized I cared more about creating illusions than real spaces and how the plumbing and electricity worked behind the walls. I like telling stories and being able to explore different periods and styles.

I had lots of wonderful teachers along the way but two people who were particularly encouraging and helpful in grad school were Campbell Baird and Lee Rand.  Mentors are also important.  Robin Wagner, whom I worked for before I even went to grad school, has always been extremely supportive.  And I rely on my production management friends for their technical advice.

 

TS: The set for Bad Jews presents very specific challenges. Can you talk about them?

LH:   It’s a very specific setting.  The story I created for myself was that the apartment was purchased within the past year by Liam and Jonah’s parents.  They set it up to be a place for their kids and also a guest room, so the personality of the space is pretty neutral.  I felt there was a certain level of investment – maybe not completely gut renovated, but significantly spruced up with a new, relatively high end, kitchen and bath - but not completely top of the line.   I designed it as something they could easily flip if they wanted.  We know the apartment has a view of the Hudson River that’s from the bathroom so the question becomes about its orientation toward Riverside Drive and where the windows and doors are located. The biggest challenge in the show is the building hallway and how it relates to the apartment.  We tried all different scenarios.  Because the scenes that take place in the hallway are important, it ended up downstage.  I kept it as narrow as possible so the apartment would not feel remote from the audience.  Some atypical choices that Daniel pushed for, like the couch and front door facing upstage, help create the physical boundary between the acting areas.  He was also very specific that he wanted the room to feel like an obstacle course, that people had to climb over things, like bouncy airbeds and sleeper sofa mattresses.  He wanted to create a space that allowed for physical comedy while also having a sense of claustrophobia.

 

Tracee Chimo (Daphna) and Molly Ranson (Melody) in Bad Jews. Photo by Joan Marcus.

 

TS: How are you going to maintain that feeling of claustrophobia in the Pels, which is a larger space?   

LH: Surprisingly, the Underground and the Pels have almost the same stage dimensions but the audience configuration and the sight lines are extremely different, so it’s impossible to just pick up the set and move it upstairs.   We knew we wanted to hold onto as much of what we had before as possible, but the longest discussions were definitely about the claustrophobic feel of the room and how to keep the intimacy when you have to reach a much larger audience.  The Underground has a very low ceiling that closed in the set and the Pels has so much air.  I changed some proportions, which might not be noticeable if you didn’t know about them, raised the wall height so people in the balcony could see, and added in a ceiling beam to cap the space.  I’m looking forward to seeing how it translates.

 

Bad Jews begins previews at the Laura Pels Theatre September 19. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2013-2014 Season, Bad Jews


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