Thank you for publishing the review of “Bad Jews” (see page 16)
The play title “Bad Jews” bothers me deeply. After I read the review of the play in The Forward, I learned other reasons to criticize this play. The review's main focus is on how the play treats women, namely badly.
Equally serious for me is the demeaning way the play treats decency – it makes the main characters look like fools. It tries to get cheap laughs at the expense of making Jews look petty and ridiculous.
In the past three decades, many playwrights and film and TV script writers have gone into the gutter of cheap, crass humor – often at the expense of some defenseless person or group. Saturday Night Live does that most egregiously. Evidently, it is a fast and easy way to make money.
Maybe Joshua Harmon rationalizes his writing as parody. But in my opinion, by his doing this at the expense of an ethnic group, at the expense of his own mishpocha, he is feeding bad stereotypes in the minds of play viewers and newspaper readers. Some critics would say his real purpose is not parody, but fame and money
At the very least, Gamm should inform the audience that the play contains words and themes that demean well-intentioned human beings and that might nourish antisemitic attitudes. And ask the audience to question the playwright's intentions.
More effective would be to have a brief discussion during intermission or before the play starts about the dangers and costs of not tolerating differences. The inability to handle cognitive dissonance might have helped mankind survive in cave dwelling times. But in modern times that inability has been deadly, be it lynchings and shootings of Blacks, the killings of Asians, Jews and other ethnic peoples, or wars by fundamentalists, or the failure to address global warming.
Tony Estrella, the Gamm’s artistic director, wrote in his program notes. “There is little agreement in any culture about who or what constitutes the ‘good’ or the ‘bad.’ There is no consensus on either the nature of our debt to the past or our aspirations for the future.”
Every major religion and sensible ethicist disagrees strongly with that statement. Every rational society believes in the arc of progress and in tikkun olam or its translation. Otherwise, why have children. In my opinion, that statement revels one more serious defect with the play.
Know that my mother and father witnessed the worst antisemitic behavior in Germany pre-WW2. In the last months of 1944, my mother and I were hidden by a farmer in Belgium – he and family risked their lives. My mother lost 5 siblings in Auschwitz. She and I would have been among them, but for the grace of God and some decent people, who knew the difference between good and bad.
This letter has been excerpted due to space limitations. The original letter is available online.