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NU alum’s play ‘Bad Jews’ to be extended until December

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NU alum’s play ‘Bad Jews’ to be extended until December

Joshua Harmon

Joshua Harmon

Source: Joshua Harmon

Joshua Harmon

Source: Joshua Harmon

Source: Joshua Harmon

Joshua Harmon

Kimberly Go, Reporter

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Northwestern alumnus Joshua Harmon (Weinberg ‘05) didn’t expect his play “Bad Jews,” a comedy about two cousins fighting over a family heirloom, to run as long as it has.

“I wrote the play for myself,” Harmon said. “I generally believed that I was the only person in the world who would be interested in seeing it done.”

Theater Wit, a Chicago theatre company, has been running its production of the show since April. Because of the support it has been receiving, “Bad Jews” will be extended through Dec. 10 at Chicago’s Royal George Theater.

In “Bad Jews,” the cousins feud over a family heirloom belonging to their grandfather, a Holocaust survivor who recently died. Themes of family, faith and legacy emerge as both cousins fight over their grandfather’s traditional necklace.

“Bad Jews” is the most successful play Theater Wit has shown, with almost 16,000 people having seen it, Theater Wit’s artistic director Jeremy Wechsler said.

Harmon said the play was partly inspired by the sterility of a Holocaust memorial service he saw while attending NU. During the service, grandchildren of Holocaust survivors talked about their grandparents’ experiences.

“I remember finding that service incredibly unmoving,” Harmon said. “There was something about the distance the speakers had from the event that felt sterile somehow, and I remember leaving that experience very scared and unsettled.”

Harmon wrote the play in 2011, and it premiered in New York’s Roundabout Underground in the fall of 2012.

“Before ‘Bad Jews’ was produced, the longest production of a play I had was three nights,” Harmon said. “It’s now been done at a ton of places, so I don’t think anybody’s been more surprised than I have that it’s gone out into the world this way.”

Harmon, who studied drama in the English department, said NU shaped his journey in becoming a playwright. His classes changed the way he looked at theater.

He took Introduction to Playwriting with Penny Penniston and remembered Wechsler, Penniston’s husband, coming in to teach a class. He didn’t know that 10 years later Wechsler would direct one of his plays.

“Josh is great at really sharp character observations,” Wechsler said. “The characters in ‘Bad Jews’ are extremely astutely observed. He writes them with a lot of compassion, but they’re absolutely recognizable without it all being stereotypical.”

Actor Philip Ettinger, who was part of the original “Bad Jews” cast in New York, said Harmon is a young playwright with a strong voice.

“I remember the first time I read his words, it definitely seemed like this was a new voice that was going to stick around for a while,” Ettinger said.

During the show’s run, Harmon has been busy with other projects like his newest play, “Significant Other,” which opened in June at Roundabout Theatre. He is also working on several commissions in two different theaters in New York and has ideas for new plays he would like to write.

Although responses to the play have been mixed, Weschler said there has been a large impact. He thinks people will see a lot more of Harmon in Chicago.

“(Harmon’s) plays are kind of like shots of whiskey,” Wechsler said. “They hit really hard and are unmistakable when they happen.”

Twitter: @kimberlygo2018