by Joshua Harmon.
Arts Theatre Great Newport Street WC2H 7JB To 11 July 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm.Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Run 1hr 40min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7836 8463.
Review: William Russell 2 April.
Splitting heirs – hilariously, painfully, simultaneously.
Christopher Isherwood is attributed with the claim that there is nothing like a death in the family to bring out the worst in people. This sparkling, vicious comedy about what happens when after his death Grandfather’s treasured chai, a Jewish religious symbol, is up for grabs certainly bears that out.
The problem is Grandpa Poppy did not say in his will who should have it, strongly traditional Jewish grand-daughter Daphna or academic grandson Liam, who is anything but a traditional Jew and has acquired a dim beautiful blonde from Delaware called Melody as his intended. Daphna, one of those intelligent, forceful women with unruly hair doomed to spinsterhood – she scares the pants of men in quite the wrong way – wants it. She is convinced, as one headed for life in Israel, that she is the right person as Poppy’s little girl. But Liam, who knows the family legend that Poppy used the chai to woo grandma as he did not have a ring to offer when he came to America, wants to give it to Melody when he proposes. The problem is Liam has the chai because his mother appropriated it on Poppy’s deathbed and passed it to her son.
All hell duly breaks loose as Daphna, a tousle haired, strident insecure soul, beautifully played by Jenna Augen, clashes with the neurotic, equally insecure Liam, a splendid performance by Ilan Goodman during a long night in the studio flat they are forced to share with Liam’s brother Jonah and Melody.
They are there after the funeral which Liam has missed and there is nowhere else to stay for the subsequent family gatherings. Meanwhile Jonah tries to keep out of the bloodletting that ensues as Daphna makes her demand.
Each character gets their moment centre stage, Harmon having crafted the piece with meticulous care, and there is firm direction from Michael Longhurst. The chai is precious because Poppy, a holocaust survivor, kept it hidden under his tongue while in a concentration camp and it has become a potent symbol for this now well off collection of New York Jews.
The riffs given the characters dazzle, Liam almost stops the show with his one, and Melody, who is nowhere as nice as she looks, is hilarious when persuaded by Daphna to help her calm down by singing a song. Melody has revealed she studied to be an opera singer and delivers a rendering of Summertime to amaze.
The play presents a fascinating clash of personalities and one’s sympathies move from one character to the other at Mr Harmon’s behest. He also ends it on a tragic and surprising revelation.
Jonah: Joe Coen.
Daphna: Jenna Augen.
Liam: Ilan Goodman.
Melody: Gina Bramhill.
Director: Michael Longhurst.
Designer: Richard Kent.
Lighting: Richard Howell.
Sound: Adrienne Quartly.
Fight director: Bret Yount.