Tag Archive: Drama

  1. “Bad Jews” is Good News

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    “Bad Jews” is a full-blooded modern comedy. Long Wharf Theatre’s new production of the 2012 play by Joshua Harmon runs through March 22 and turns a sharp script into a comic tour de force.

    For 80 uninterrupted minutes, “Bad Jews” gives the domestic melodrama a humane and uproariously funny update: Four characters sprawl, walk, lounge and lunge across three futons in a studio apartment. The simple set plays host to an intra-family showdown over prized heirlooms and religious identity.

    The show’s outrageous turmoil is absent from the opening sequence, which introduces Jonah (Max Michael Miller) and Daphna (Keilly McQuail). They’re Jews, we learn. They’re cousins. They’re college students. They’re in his apartment in Manhattan. They’ve just come back from their grandfather Poppy’s funeral. For this stretch, “Bad Jews” is basically a one-woman show, as Jonah, catatonic, plays video games and says nothing, throwing into relief his cousin, a Vassar student who regales him with her newfound Jewish fanaticism. Daphna plans to become a rabbi, find a vegan mentor, make aliyah to Israel, join the army, marry her Israeli boyfriend, and on, and on, and on.

    The force of McQuail’s performance easily sustains the play: She’s an archetypal Jewish-American princess, at once vain, overbearing and sympathetic. She kvells, she kvetches, she pontificates, all with exaggerated Orthodox-Jewish enunciation. Her long, icy glares at Jonah elicit peals of laughter from the audience. She extracts humor from throwaway lines like, “I’m not even saying, I’m just saying!”

    Daphna’s presence is a dramatic conflict in itself, capable of keeping the play’s gears in motion, but the impending arrival of Jonah’s brother Liam promises to raise the stakes. Daphna is furious at Liam (Michael Steinmetz) for skipping Poppy’s funeral to go skiing in Aspen with his girlfriend Melody (Christy Escobar).

    Also, she wants Poppy’s gold necklace, inscribed with the Hebrew word for “life,” which he carried through the Holocaust. As it happens, Liam intends to propose to Melody with the same necklace.

    Murmurs passed through the audience as Liam and his blonde, blue-eyed girlfriend entered. A strong-willed and hardheaded Daphna finds her match in Liam, and from the moment he walks in, the two bicker. She harangues him for missing the funeral; he sneers at her religiosity; she mocks his doctorate in “contemporary Japanese youth culture” and his pert, goyish girlfriend. The stage is set for an epic showdown.

    When the men leave for some fraternal bonding, Daphna doesn’t disguise her skepticism of Melody, whom she proceeds to interrogate. The result is an incredible comic bit that touches on Melody’s calf tattoo of a treble clef and moves on to her cultural heritage. Daphna asks what the derivation of the name Melody is, to which Melody replies, “Caucasian.” Prodded about where “her people” are from, Melody offers “Delaware,” setting Daphna on a tirade that ends with: “I’m asking, where did your family come from before they came to Delaware to perpetrate genocide?” It’s a warm first impression for the future in-laws.

    (Full disclosure: My dad is Jewish and my mom, originally Episcopalian, is from Delaware. The older woman sitting next to me had recently lost her father, known as Poppy, who had willed his gold “Chai” necklace to a grandchild. We agreed that between us, we could have written the play.)

    When the brothers return, Daphna and Liam’s antagonism explodes into a full-fledged screaming match, and the play becomes a glorified exchange of insults. Liam’s five-minute-long verbal takedown of Daphna met with the audience’s sustained applause. When Daphna has her turn to retort, she accuses him of being a self-hating Jew who preys on bimbos.

    The male characters’ apathetic, teenage-y mode of social interaction rings true but doesn’t make for gripping theater. The women are more dynamic and fortunately get the lion’s share of stage time.

    Everything builds toward the most dysfunctional marriage proposal imaginable, but the play’s underlying tensions over the family’s property and heritage find no real resolution.

    Liam and Daphna both command sympathy: Shouldn’t he be free to marry the girl he loves? Isn’t she right to value her culture and religion? Their depth, the cousins’ grief and the recurring mentions of Poppy’s Holocaust experience lend the play moments of seriousness and elevate it above farce.

    Does “Bad Jews” trade in stereotypes? Not more than any raucous comedy might. Besides, the characters feel substantial and unpredictable, even when they’re telling jokes and espousing big ideas. (Apparently you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate “Bad Jews” — out of hundreds of audience members, I was the only one to laugh when Daphna sassily enunciated the Hebrew word for “sorry.”) Daphna and Liam may be bad Jews, but they’re also young people doing their best to grapple with the questions of growing up.

  2. Weariness Is Coming

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    GC: Dun-dun-dah-dah-dun-dun-dah-dah-dun-dun-dah-dah-dun-dun-DAH-dun-dun-dah-dah-dun-dun-dah-dah-dun-dun-dah-dah-dun-dun …

    That was a test. If you didn’t hear the song — full stereo sound in your head — while reading that, then this piece will not be for you. I can’t even start to imagine how we would write for the casual “Game of Thrones” viewer, the kind of person who didn’t have March 31 marked on his/her calendar (and burnt into his/her brain). The thought of having to use constructions like “Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) says…” makes my eye twitch a little.

    But that’s not to say that I loved the season premiere.

    I was waiting to love it, obviously. Otherwise, the waiting would be in vain. And yet — and cruel yet! — this just struck me as a dull episode. Very little advancement of any particular plot. Some beloved characters entirely absent. Lots of what felt like bare and unnecessary reintroduction of characters and themes.

    For obvious reasons, “Game of Thrones” has — and will continue forevermore to have — an inflamed case of divided-audience syndrome. There are the viewers who devoured the books, there are the viewers making their way concurrently through the books and the television series, there are the viewers who just watch the series, and every shade of devotion in between ad infinitum. It’d be impossible to satisfy each group on its own terms — regular readers of the “A.V. Club” will know that there are recaps for “newbies” and recaps for “pros” — but the show has largely threaded the needle with aplomb.

    Not so this time; I can’t help but feel that this episode was Game of Thrones on training wheels. Our hands were held, and we were spoken to very slowly, so as not to be disoriented.

    SN: A generous assessment of this episode, and also a feminist one: The men of Westeros shuffle around looking dead-eyed, scarred and dehydrated. But the women march on with grim determination and a swish of turquoise skirts. I enjoyed the exchange between Ros and Shay, a mutual recognition of how far they’d come: two prostitutes whom we’d all assumed were typical HBO props have actually gained power, which is not something many can say in this war.

    And there’s a new queen in town! Margaery Tyrell has arrived. She was level-headed during that potentially-traumatic wedding night with Renly, and remained cool after he, her main asset, was eliminated, managing to parlay that into an even better position in the court. And what has she done with that power? Other leaders may worry about soldiers or tenants, but House Tyrell has rolled out bona fide social welfare programs.

    Yet I have to concede that this episode did not explode right out the gate. The ending scene was particularly anticlimactic, as if Messrs. Benioff and Weiss have totally dispensed with the dramatic conventions of the episode form: Why bother with a cliffhanger when they know they’ve got their audience good and captured? Audience interest will be sustained no matter what they do. Recall, if you will, that the series premiere went out with a graphic (incestuous!) sex scene and a ten-year-old boy getting shoved out a window. The season three premiere? The reappearance of some old knight who, at some point, we may have had some feelings about that one time he threw down his sword in some show of defiance or something.

    As someone who’s read “A Storm of Swords,” I know that all too much action lies ahead.

    Yet I worry that “Game of Thrones” will slacken its pace permanently. It no longer has anything to prove; it can take its sweet time. To me, its larger structural problem is not built into its audience, but built into its source material. You noted the absence of certain beloved characters — and by that I assume you meant Arya and Bran — and that problem will only worsen. The pleasure and gaping pitfall of the novels is that the characters only multiply, and the map continues to expand. Frenetically switching between scattered points of interest means that each plot moves mere inches at a time.

    The showrunners have already indicated that the third book of the series has been split into two seasons. I used to think this meant that they would adapt it with loving care. Now I worry that they are just going to transcribe hundreds of pages into slow-moving hours, rather than consolidating, editing, and you know, writing.

    GC: Wow. Grim portents. Normally I’m the severe one. Still, come next Sunday I’ll be watching, avidly. Even if this was a momentum-blunting episode, the monkey is not so easily bucked from one’s back. We just need some forward motion to go along with the sideways shuffle and positioning of plot pieces.

    Or, reductively, and in the words of another King: “a little less conversation, a little more action please.”

  3. Giamatti ’89 DRA ’94 to star in “Hamlet” at Yale Rep

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    Paul Giamatti ’89 DRA ’94 will bring the state of Denmark to campus in spring 2013 when he stars as Hamlet at the Yale Repertory Theater.

    The play, which runs from March 15, 2013 to April 13, 2013, will be directed by James Bundy, dean of the School of Drama and the Rep’s Artistic Director, the New York Times reported Thursday. It’s the first time Giamatti, an Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated actor, has played Hamlet, according to the Times.

    The 2012-2013 season at the Rep will also include the world premiere of “Stunning,” a play by David Adjmi, and “In the Next Room, or the vibrator play,” by Sarah Ruhl.

    Giamatti was on campus last spring to become the first recipient of Mory’s “Louis Award.” He also came to Yale in February for a Master’s Tea in Pierson College

  4. Drama School names new head of playwriting

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    Jeanie O’Hare, the in-house dramaturg of the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, will be the new chair of the School of Drama’s playwriting department, the school announced in a press release Monday.

    [ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”873″ ]

    O’Hare has been with the Royal Shakespeare Company for the last six years. During O’Hare’s tenure, the Company commissioned 75 new writers and launched 40 world premieres, including the launch of “Matilda: the Musical.”

    “Jeanie has woven writers and artists into the fabric of the RSC, guided them, challenged them, and made both the new and the established artist feel at home,” said Michael Boyd, the RSC’s artistic director.

    Drama School Dean James Bundy DRA ’95 convened a selection committee for the position after Paula Vogel, the program’s chair, announced she would step down in June. Vogel took over in 2008, coming to Yale after 24 years of leading an acclaimed playwriting program at Brown University.