PMA Podcast Transcript: Episode 10, Bad Jews

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Chris: Hello and welcome to episode 10 of the PMA podcast. Today we are discussing an upcoming play called Bad Jews, written by Joshua Harmon and directed by Julia Dunetz. Uh, Julia is here with us today in the, uh—I guess we’re sitting in the Kiplinger stage today. Uh, Julia, say hello. 

Julia: Hi! 

Chris: First ti—

Julia: Really excited to be here. 

Chris: Yeah, second time back on the podcast, right? 

Julia: Yes. I’m really happy to be here again. Thanks for having me, Chris.

Chris: Yeah, absolutely. And we also have Reed. Reed Rosenberg, yes? 

Reed: Correct. 

Chris: Yes.

Reed: Hello. How are you?

Chris: Good. How are you?

Reed: I’m good.

Chris: Uh, tell us a little bit about yourself, Reed.

Reed: Yeah, I’m a sophomore in Arts and Sciences. I am a PMA major. Um, this is my first, um, well larger PMA production, which I’m really excited about. Um, yeah, really excited to be here.

Chris: Okay. Excited to have you here. 

Reed: Thank you.

Chris: Hannah?

Hannah: Hello. 

Chris: Hannah Biemer. No.

Chris and Hannah: Biener.

Hannah: Yeah. 

Chris: Biener, yes. Welcome to the podcast. 

Hannah: Thank you.

Chris: A little bit about yourself?

Hannah: Yeah, um, I’m a freshman in Arts and Sciences studying government, and this is my first collegiate production, so…

Chris: Okay, fantastic.

Hannah: Yeah. 

Chris: And Julia, first play that you have directed here at Cornell?

Julia: Correct, yes. 

Chris: Okay. Well, without further ado, tell us a little bit about the play.

Julia: Um, yeah, so Bad Jews is a dark comedy written by Joshua Harmon. Um, it’s a four-person play and it’s about these three cousins: Daphna, played by Hannah; Liam, played by Reed; and then, uh, Liam’s brother Jonah, um, and their grandfather Poppy just died. Um, and Liam, uh—they’re all Jewish by the way, all the cousins—and uh, Liam just comes back from a trip with his Christian girlfriend, and basically the entire play ensues when there’s this big fight over who is going to get to keep Poppy’s Chai necklace, which is symbolic in Judaism. Um, and it’s really funny and really big and, um, it’s just a great time. 

Chris: Okay.

Julia: It’s a great play, yeah. 

Chris: Reed, tell me a little bit about your character.

Reed: Yeah, so Liam, um, Liam is secular. Uh, he identifies as atheist, um, which is—which, um, provides an interesting dynamic, you know, of having varying levels of how religious they are, you know, with him compared to his cousins. Um, that’s a lot of fun. Um, he’s very smart and he knows it, um, which can make him seem like kind of a jerk sometimes. Um, and, uh, yeah, I’d say he has a bit of a superiority complex which he, um, he, uh, inflicts upon his brother Jonah and his girlfriend and then fiancée Melody. Um, and, uh, yeah he’s very, uh, tightly wound and that’s a lot of fun to play.

Chris: Okay.

Reed: [Laughs].

Chris: Anything you’re doing to develop this character at all.

Reed: Um, I feel like I’ve met Liams before, so…

Chris: [Laughs]. 

Reed: [Continued] um, just going with those people I’ve met, those Liams I’ve met before and then just, uh, taking inspiration from that. 

Chris: Okay. 

Reed: Yeah. 

Chris: Hannah, how ‘bout you?

Hannah: Yeah, so...

Chris: Your character.

Hannah: [Continued] um, Daphna is very connected to Judaism, unlike Liam. Um, she has a very strong connection to, um, Poppy, her grandfather, and, um, his story, um, and by extension his Chai. Um, and she’s very strong-willed, very opinionated, um, and she’s not afraid to tell Liam, um, that she really wants the Chai, and she, um, kind of lets her ideals, uh, guide her, um, and so that’s been really fun to play with.

Chris: Okay. Julia, why this play?

Julia: Um…

Chris: Why Bad Jews?

Julia: Yeah, I—I read the play around, I want to say three years ago for the first time, and, uh, I was totally taken with it, uh, cause the language is just so funny, and it’s also really relatable as these are all college kids, um, in the play, so it’s language that we all use, and every production, um, of Bad Jews has received huge success, um, everyone really loves it. It’s just a play that people really enjoy, um, and on top of that, uh, as a Jewish woman in college, um, it’s something that I can relate to. Um, some of the topics that are discussed are things that, um, you know, that I’ve thought about as a Jew, um, and, you know, there’s a lot of discussion of, you know, how important is Judaism versus love? Stuff like that, um, which is something that obviously I’ve thought about, um, which it’s cool to bring that to the stage. On top of that, just having a really fun piece. t’s just fun to direct. It’s fun to play with. It’s fun to watch. Um, yeah, and that’s basically why I chose it. 

Chris: Okay. Uh, any challenges so far in terms of, uh, getting things together? Directing, all of—all the things we think about when it comes to putting a production up. 

Julia: Yeah, um, well we’re in the Black Box, so it’s a thrust space, uh, which definitely requires a different directing eye because you’re directing towards three sides rather than just one like a proscenium.

Chris: Mhm. 

Julia: Um, and it’s—it’s a hefty piece. I mean there’s, uh, some of the characters—specifically Daphna and Liam—really speak in paragraphs mostly. Um, they speak a lot at once, so it’s a lot of words, so it’s kind of having to weed through those words and find, um, what’s underneath it and how to make all of those words mean something and not just be talking continually for an hour. Um, so that’s been a fun challenge. I mean, I think Hannah and Reed can speak to that because they’ve been working through that a lot.

Reed: Yeah. I mean, um, yeah the, uh, the paragraph thing is very real. Um, uh, it’s not a lot of back and forth jest. There’s that as well, but, um, it really is just a lot of, um...I’m trying to think of the right word. Um, just completely unloading on each other in long, you know, two-page—two-page essays of text. 

Hannah: Yeah, um, I think kind of reading the lines and finding what points, um, what points that the character is like thinking through in real-time, and so kind of going along with what the lines are guiding the character. Um, and I think that it’s easy to get lost in the sheer bulk of it, but if you break it down sentence by sentence, you know, these characters have a lot on their minds, and they’re definitely trying to communicate a lot of different things, and so I think just kind of breaking it down and like rooting it in your character is really important. 

Chris: Okay. So do you want to discuss the themes in the play a little bit?

Julia: Yeah, so, um, the themes I think are—uh, well the tagline is “faith, family, and love.” Those are really the main points, and, um, maybe Reed, you can speak a little bit more to those because I think your character struggles with those a lot. Um…

Reed: Yeah. Um, I think it’s a lot about drawing the lines between those three things and, um, just seeing where they differentiate. This play and how, you know, different types of audiences will connect to it reminds me a little bit of like Fiddler on the Roof just because that’s a play that has very universal themes, but it’s still set within a very niche type of community, right? It’s a very like—it’s a very specific type of community, but if you’re any other...if you’re, you know, Christian, like—

Chris: Mhm.

Reed: [Continued] you can still totally watch Fiddler on the Roof and relate to all its themes and like really connect with it, so I think it’s the same thing with this. You know? This is not a play just for—just for Jews, you know? Anyone who is a child, or is a brother, is a cousin, is a brother or sister, um—

Hannah: Yeah.

Reed: [Continued] will be able to connect with this—with this play.

Chris: Okay. 

Hannah: Yeah, and I think, um, in terms of like what specifically it’s discussing, I think the contrast between Liam and Daphna is really the contrast between two separate, um, like belief systems and, um, Daphna really, um, is concerned about assimilation, and this is something that, you know, as a Jew, I have reckoned with, you know, my whole life. A lot of people talk about assimilation and, you know, what, um, what traits of your religious background or familial background deserve a place in today’s modern society. Um, and so I think it’s talking about any type of culture, um, and in the great mixing pot that is this country I think a lot of people can relate to, you know, their kind of, um, their grappling with two different worlds.

Chris: Mhm, mhm. Reed, did you want to get into, uh, why this play is, uh, deeply important to you?

Reed: Yeah! Yeah, I mean, um.

Chris: [Laughs].

Reed: [Continued] I mean, I come from an interfaith home so—my dad is Jewish, my mom is Catholic—so, um, you know, Liam is, um, Liam is Jewish, at least culturally and by birth, um, I guess you would say, and, you know, he’s intending on marrying Melody, who is, who is not—she’s Christian, um, so which creates an extra set of conflicts within the play. Um, you know, Daphna, um, is not entirely—she’s, I’d say she’s not entirely comfortable with that, but she, um, she does like sort of approve of it. But, um, so anyways I’m really excited to—it was really cool for me to play a character who, you know, I felt like some of my family members fit into those slots, you know?

Chris: Okay.

Reed: I think my dad is nicer than Liam, and I think that my mom is—

[Everyone laughs]

Reed: [Continued] I think my mom is smarter than Melody, but—

[Everyone laughs]

Reed: [Continued] but I’m really excited for them to see this play—

Chris: Okay.

Reed: [Continued] more than anything else.

Chris: And they’ll be here to see it? 

Reed: They will be here to see it.

Chris: Fantastic.

Reed: Yes.

Chris: Alright. Uh, what do we know about the rehearsal, uh, process so far?

Julia: Yeah, the rehearsal process has been so, so fun, I think Hannah and Reed can both attest to that too, um, it is a comedy, um, it has strong themes, but it’s a comedy and that means that most of our rehearsal process is filled with laughs, and there have been moments where we were all literally just crying because we were laughing so much. Um, yeah, do you guys want to talk about that a little bit?

Hannah: Yeah, I won’t spoil the moment in the play

Chris: Okay.

Hannah: [Continued] but there’s this moment that we have rehearsed over and over and, you know, one time we think we’re gonna go through it without laughing and we just bust out—

[Everyone laughs]

Hannah: [Continued] and giggle, and so it’s been really, really fun.

Julia: Yeah, and we’re also a really—it’s a small cast, it’s only four cast members, um, so we’ve all gotten really close, which is really great. Um, everyone comes from different backgrounds and it’s cool to just kind of create a little family, um, within our cast and crew, which has been really, really fun.

Chris: Okay. The set itself—Mabel Lawrence designed it?

Julia: Mabel Lawrence.

Chris: Okay.

Julia: The wonderful Mabel Lawrence. 

Chris: Mhm.

Julia: Um, it’s beautiful. Uh, she’s really been able to transform the Black Box. Um, it feels like we’re in the Upper West Side apartment of the Habers and, uh, yeah it’s really beautiful and I think, um, like from where we started in rehearsal where we didn’t have the full set to we’re at a point now where we have most of the set in the space, um, it totally transforms it. I feel like we’re, um—it definitely helps everyone get into the mood, um, and feel like we’re really there.

Chris: Okay. I guess I should’ve asked, for rehearsals, are we off-book at this point?

Hannah and Reed: Yes. 

Chris: Yay! They say emphatically.

Julia: It was a big accomplishment, yes.

[Everyone laughs]

Reed: Yeah.

Chris: I guess that changes everything, right? In terms of moving forward and going into—and so November 2nd is opening?

Julia: November 2nd through 4th. 

Chris: Is that next week? 

Reed: A week from tomorrow.

Julia: A week from tomorrow. 

Chris: Oh my God.

Hannah: Ahhh. 

Julia: It’s crazy.

Reed: Yeah.

Julia: Um, yeah, we actually, uh, there was such popular demand—we’ve been selling so well that we actually added a fourth performance—

Chris: Oh, okay. 

Julia: [Continued] which is really exciting. 

Chris: Congratulations.

Julia: Uh, thank you. Um, so Thursday night, uh, the 2nd, we have a 7:30 show. Uh, Friday night the 3rd we have a 5:00, and then on the 4th, Saturday, we just added a matinee at 2:00, and then closing is 7:30 at night on the 4th.

Chris: Oh, fantastic. 

Julia: Yeah.

Chris: Okay. Um, I know it’s a bit of a heavy situation, or a bit of a dark, uh, shadow here in Ithaca right now, but last—was it last week? It feels like it was last week.

Reed: Like two days ago.

Chris: Two days ago?

Julia: I think it was yesterday, actually.

Chris: I lose track of time. 

Reed: Yeah, wow.

Chris: So we had some anti-Semitic posters found here in town on campus and elsewhere in Collegetown. 

Julia: Yeah, um…

Chris: How is that resonating with the cast, or in terms of the production?

Julia: Yeah, I mean it’s something that we’ve all, you know, the first thing that we did at rehearsal was talk about it. Um, and obviously it’s a really upsetting thing that’s happening, and our cast is—some of our cast members are Jewish, some aren’t, but obviously everyone’s affected by it. Um, and our play doesn’t really talk about anti-Semitism. It’s not a topic of the play. It’s not a preachy play. It has nothing to do with that.

Chris: Mhm.

Julia: But at the same time we are telling a story about Jews. We are telling a story about this marginalized group of people, and I think, um, it’s important to acknowledge that, um, you know, in 2017 this is still happening, um, but I’m still really excited that we are able to bring this story to the stage and that, um, we’re still going to be able to tell this story. Um, if you guys want to add on to that…

Reed: Yeah, I mean it was tricky talking about it because, you know, this is not a play about anti-Semitism, you know?

Chris: Mhm.

Reed: So it was just like, you know, when talking about the show and, you know, telling our friends about the show, how do we connect it with these events that have happened recently, um, without being like, “This is a show that is about anti-Semitism.” We can be like, “Oh, yeah these events are happening on campus and you should come see this show. It’ll help you wrestle with your opinions about what happened.” Um, but that’s not quite the case here, you know?

Chris: Okay. 

Reed: Um, yeah so that was definitely tricky, um, and something that we had a lengthy conversation about. 

Chris: Hannah, anything to add?

Hannah: Yeah, um, I second what they both said. Um, I don’t know, I think, um, obviously the play doesn’t deal with anti-Semitism, but I think, um, these two, um, worldviews were both informed by anti-Semitism historically, and you know, members of my family would agree, I think, with certain things a character says because of their experience with anti-Semitism so I think it’s absolutely not explicit in the play, but I think it definitely informs a lot of who these people are.

Chris: Okay, thank you. Talking about friends, um, who are you hoping to see in the theatre the first night—opening night?

Reed: Oh boy. Um…

[Everyone laughs]

Reed: [Continued] the opening night, um…

Chris: Actually, let’s go big picture, or big wish. Who would you love to see sitting in the audience opening night? Anybody.

Reed: Anybody.

[Julia laughs].

Reed: Um, I think just some of my professors and maybe ones that aren’t in PMA.

Chris: Okay.

Reed: Um, I always like—even like in high school, I loved when my teachers would come see me in a show because it was like oh yeah, this is what I do. This is, you know, the thing that I’m like, pretty good at. You know, it might not be your class, but it’s like, this is a thing. 

[Chris laughs]

Reed: So I always like for my professors to see that side of me. 

Chris: Okay.

Reed: Yeah.

Chris: Hannah?

Hannah: Uh, I don’t know, I guess my friends from my dorm.

[Julia and Reed laugh].

Hannah: I don’t know. Um, my family, uh, yeah I don’t—

Chris: Doing a lot of shameless self-promotion at this point?

Hannah: [Laughs]. Yes, absolutely.

Chris: Good! Julia?

Julia: Um, yeah I’m excited or my friends and family to come see it. My family is coming up to see it and, um, my, uh, my professor and mentor David Feldshuh, who’s actually on sabbatical right now—

Chris: Mhm.

Julia: [Continued] he taught my Directing I and II classes, um, unfortunately, he’s not in Ithaca right now, but I think he’s going to try to come back and see it, which I’m really excited for because he’s really someone who has shaped who I am as a director, and I’m really excited for him to hopefully be able to see the work that I’ve done. 

Chris: Okay, fantastic. Anything else you’d like to add before we close?

Reed: Get hype.

[Everyone laughs]

Julia: Um, yeah I mean it’s gonna be a really, really fun show. It’s relevant right now. It’s exciting. It’s fun for college students. It’s funny. It’s really—it’s just a great show. It’s a great hour-and-fifteen-minute production, so come to the Black Box. Get your tickets; they’re selling fast. You’re not going to regret it. I really—I think it’s going to be fun. 

Chris: Okay. Well, thank you all so much for being here today.

Reed: Thank you. 

Chris: Yeah.

Julia: Thanks for having us.

Hannah: Thank you.

Chris: Yeah, absolutely. Break a leg on opening night.

Julia: Thanks, Chris. 

Chris: Thanks for listening to the PMA podcast. Performances of Bad Jews are in the Schwartz Center’s Black Box Theatre November 2nd at 7:30 p.m., November 3rd at 5:00 p.m., and November 4th at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at shcwartztickets.com or at the Schwartz Center Box Office, located at 430 College Avenue, Ithaca, New York.