Last night, this Frog saw something fantastic. Having seen a lot (a LOT) of bad theatre in Los Angeles, it’s like a shot of adrenaline to the heart when a play just works – when it grabs you in all the right places, shakes you up a bit, makes you laugh, makes you cry, makes you want to run out and create things, makes you want to live better, love harder, and embrace the seriously complicated, seriously messed-up, SERIOUSLY beautiful thing that is the human existence.

The cast, the script, the direction, the design; everything in the Geffen Playhouse‘s production of Bad Jews is in-sync, deftly executed and inspirational. Or, in this Frog’s opinion, exactly what theatre should be.

Joshua Harmon’s hilarious script has everything you want from a contemporary piece. It is witty, colloquial, fearlessly over-zealous at times and equally stripped naked at others. Running about 90 minutes (in this particular iteration) it is just the right length, carrying the audience through the action in real time and ending exactly when it should, with no need for a tidy clean-up. It’s no wonder that Bad Jews is currently the third most produced play in the United States.

Molly Ephraim anchors the cast as Daphna Feygenbaum, a young Jew who is audacious and ruthless in her devotion to the religious traditions of her family. Ephraim has the audience in the palm of her hand from the moment the show begins, playing on our every emotion with savage commitment, imagination and ease. Despite being responsible for about 85% of the dialog, never once will you catch her “acting.” What could come across as monologue after monologue in the hands of a less skillful actor is instead a delightfully dynamic, specifically crafted and completely effortless performance from beginning to end.

Ari Brand brings equal power and skill to the role of Liam Haber, Daphna’s cousin who arrives from Colorado with his girlfriend after missing their grandfather’s funeral. Such a strong performance from Molly Ephraim requires someone with stellar acting chops to believably go toe-to-toe with her, and Ari Brand is just that and more. Together they fence both artfully and tirelessly and with the selfless ability to show their good/bad/ugly in rapid succession. Two great actors, two fantastic performances.

Lili Fuller is hysterical and perfect in the role of Melody, Liam’s shiksa girlfriend who finds herself at the center of a familial and cultural storm that she knows nothing about. One of the funniest moments of the show hinges on Fuller’s comedic timing and deadpan commitment, which she executed so flawlessly that the audience erupted in a fury of well-deserved, mid-show applause. Hers is another character that could have been mistaken as one-note and vapid, but Lili Fuller’s performance is artfully crafted with nuance and integrity.

Raviv Ullman is not to be forgotten in the role of Jonah Haber, Liam’s younger brother whose apartment serves as the backdrop to the story. While he is often removed from the dynamic action between Daphna and Liam, Jonah is ultimately one of the more fascinating characters to observe throughout the story. It is easy to forget that those who remain silent have just as much to say as those who freely speak their mind, and in the case of Jonah this is beautifully and heartbreakingly exemplified. Ullman’s performance is simple, generous, and elegant, leaving the audience with a powerful lasting impression.

Matt Shakman‘s direction is spot-on. He and the cast nailed the comedic timing, both in individual moments and together as a whole, serving up the whole spectrum of amusement, from titillated delight to straight-up belly laughs from the whole house. Inextricably wound within the biting comedy are moments of raw pain, grief and turmoil, which are brought to life with fearless, uncomplicated authenticity.

Bad Jews is WORTH IT. It makes you laugh, makes you think, makes you question yourself, your life, your values, your fear and your love. It impales the comfortable skepticism that plagues our increasingly opinionated world. It challenges our sense of right and wrong, family and society, tradition and truth. And it’s fucking hilarious. Do yourself a big, big favor and go see this show. Bad Jews is currently in previews, with its official opening night on June 17th, running through July 19th, 2015 with a possible (probable) extension.

Get your tickets HERE before they all run out!

Enjoy the show, Froggies!

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