by Michèle Lonsdale Smith
Photo by Dahlia Katz
I’ve always been attracted to stories that traffic in the deepest and darkest and sometimes comical of human places. Bad Jews covers all of that, but the main reason this play captivates me and why I was eager to direct it, is the running themes of identity that permeate the piece. How our never ending desperation for a singular and separate identifier – to be known as one thing or the other, to fit in this box as opposed to that box – causes us to quarrel and attack each other and effectively separate from those who identify differently. This happens of course at the relationship level, the family level, the community level, the cultural level, the national level, the religious level, the global level and on and on.
The two main characters in the play, cousins Daphna and Liam, are both fighting to express their opposing belief systems, and loudly. Daphna is trying to find her identity through a profound and devoted connection to her religion, and Liam is doing the opposite, preferring to choose his own path by rejecting Judaism. Serious and sometimes permanently damaging consequences arise when family members experience diametrically opposing belief systems. Pain, resentment and violent arguments often ensue. Joshua Harman has written a beautiful dilemma in BAD JEWS, an incredibly truthful and funny depiction of what it means to be a member of a family divided by religion.
For me, as humans, we are more the same than we are different, and at the microscopic level, the family level, that becomes incredibly apparent. For all the external differences, from what I can tell, families are essentially the same, no matter the race, religion or culture. In the end, the play is about people living and loving together, and how we often don’t come out wound-free. I feel a great responsibility, especially with the state of divisiveness so rampant and pervasive in our world today, to share these kinds of stories, and by doing so perhaps inspire compassion and empathy for one another, and maybe even bring us closer together.
Michèle is an actor and director based in Los Angeles and Toronto.