The lights dim to the sounds of a wailing saxophone. Then the lights come up, and it falls silent. The lone actor on the stage has no words, and yet you can tell the world has somehow slowed.
This is how Bad Jews begins.
The piece written by Joshua Harmon and directed by DU professor Greg Ungar recently finished its run in JMAC studios on the University of Denver campus, but the performances will not easily be forgotten.
Bad Jews follows the night after a funeral of a well-known Jewish man in the New York community. His grandchildren, three cousins, are forced to figure out what to do next and what their grandfather truly meant to them. There is only a cast of four people: Jonah (played by Tristan Andersen), Daphna (played by Meagan Traver), Liam (played by Daniel Crumrine), and Melody (played by Rachel Reidenbaugh).
While the cast was small, their performances were anything but.
As Annie Newman, a student in attendance, said, “Where do I start? Their performances were stunning, and everything was so absolutely believable. Every delivery was flawless.”Traver, who plays Daphna, the overzealous “super Jew” with nothing to hold back, delivers a flawless performance. From her ability to show a range of emotions to her seamless back and forth exchanges with various characters, it is easy to forget you are watching a show and not peeking into someone’s real life.
With every biting line she delivers, the audience is highly responsive. Many would gasp or chuckle at the off-color comments Traver delivered. None took their eyes off of a single movement.
Crumrine, who plays Liam, the oldest cousin about to propose to his girlfriend Melody, packs a serious punch when he delivers a heated, emotion filled monologue directed towards Daphna’s behavior. As he plays with tones and movements, you can see his anger, sadness, and confusion growing as he engages in dangerous back and forths with Daphna.
Though Andersen, who plays Jonah, younger brother to Liam and all around quiet guy, had very few lines to deliver, he was able to withstand the ultimate test of an actor: he blended into the background. He was both physically and emotionally present in every scene and was not easily forgotten.
Reidenbaugh, who plays Melody, Liam’s girlfriend and overall kind hearted woman, also found herself without many lines, but she truly shined in her moment. When her character was coaxed to finally sing, she was beautifully awful. The dedication to believing what she was singing was a masterpiece was the highlight of her character.
The one fault I could find in this performance was set placement. While most of the scenes took place in front of the audience, there were sections that unraveled to the left side of the audience, making it hard to see any of the exchanges.
Though this hindered my view of one scene, I was otherwise able to see clearly everything that was going on throughout the following performance.
The set was well placed and provided the hints into the lives of these characters that we may otherwise not have. It was messy with clothing like people had just unpacked, and the room as a whole appeared to be something out of an IKEA catalog. There was no kitchen but it was not missed or necessary.
The light transitions were smooth and almost unnoticeable between scenes. The cold glow of the night time balanced nicely with the warmth of the lights in the apartment.It was refreshing to see such a real show. The performances were in touch with the humanity that this play provides and the set as well as the lights left nothing unturned.
“I am very pleased with my first DU performance,” Newman glowed, “I cannot wait to see another one.”