Gone Fishing: Big Fish Charms, and Bad Jews Is Vicious

But 'Bronx Bombers' is a blooper

It’s in the second act that the play descends into unmitigated, sepia-toned hagiography, as Yogi and Carmen Berra (Wendy Makkena) host a dinner party for Yankees legends at their New Jersey home. All of Yogi’s old friends are there, spectral presences made corporeal: Babe Ruth (C.J. Wilson) and Lou Gehrig (John Wernke), and Joe DiMaggio (Chris Henry Coffey) and Mickey Mantle (Mr. Dawes again) and, last to arrive, Derk Jeter (Christopher Jackson). Ultimately, what we learn is that there’s something special about being a Yankee and that Yogi, despite the Martin-Jackson contretemps, and some indigestion, will be just fine. (No one mentions that he’ll also refuse to enter Yankee Stadium for nearly 15 years, after George Steinbrenner fires him in 1985.)

It’s a silly play built around a silly fantasy dinner—sort of a straight man’s version of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, without the wit or insight. But the producers have their system, and apparently it keeps bringing sports fans to the theater. The only real surprise here is that the Steinbrenners allowed their show to be the first in this series relegated to off-Broadway.

Last Tuesday, the Pew Research Center released a major new study of American Jews, with a handful of headline-making details: More and more Jews are describing themselves as Jewish by culture but not by religion; they’re more and more willing to marry non-Jews; they’re less and less likely to send their kids for Jewish education. Last Thursday, at the Laura Pels Theatre, the Roundabout Theatre Company opened Bad Jews, Joshua Marmon’s viciously dark comedy about young Jews, intermarriage and the meaning of modern Judaism. I loved it when it debuted at the Roundabout’s black-box space last year—it was smart and funny, intense and engaging—and I think it’s only more taut and polished in the new production, again directed by Daniel Aukin.

Tracee Chimo, as the Birthrightier-than-thou Daphna, who thinks she’s most entitled to dead Poppy’s chai, because she’s the most Jewish and remains a voracious, feral hunter of weakness; Michael Zegen as her cousin and antagonist, the entitled, arrogant, assimilated Liam, now seems more evenly matched with her—two sides of the same coin. Their fighting is ferocious, and Philip Ettinger (as Jonah, Liam’s cowed brother) and Molly Ransom (as his shiksa girlfriend) are admirably poised in the face of the hysterics.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t get worked up about preserving a totally watered-down version of something that wasn’t even true to begin with, and I’m not going to allow it to dictate how I live my life or who I choose to live my life with so I can genetically or biologically pass on something I don’t even believe in.” That’s Liam, in his climatic face-off with Daphna, and not a quote from a Pew survey respondent. As much credit as Mr. Harmon deserves for writing the play, the Roundabout marketing department deserves some big kudos for timing its opening.

Gone Fishing: <em>Big Fish</em> Charms, and <em>Bad Jews</em> Is Vicious