Blistering humour defines ‘Bad Jews’

Greg Karvellas, general manager and associate producer at Cape Town’s Fugard Theatre, has worked as a director, producer and production manager in theatre and television for a decade.

With his long-time collaborator, writer Louis Viljoen, he co-produced the plays The Abusers, The Bile Boys and The Frontiersmen.

He directed the hit play Champ, which had successful seasons at the Artscape Arena Theatre, the National Arts Festival and the Edinburgh Festival in 2013. Karvellas also recently directed the acclaimed A Certain Lady at the Alexander Upstairs Theatre in Cape Town.

Karvellas is the associate director of A Human Being Died That Night, the play based on Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s eponymous work about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which recently transferred to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York.

This month, Karvellas directs Joshua Harmon’s blisteringly funny and thought-provoking play Bad Jews, which played to sold-out houses and received rave reviews in London’s West End earlier this year.

It even got a five-star review from the British Jewish Chronicle, in which critic John Nathan noted that there is “something particularly remarkable” in how Harmon deals with the Holocaust: “Remarkable, because whereas most dramatists would address that territory with sombre respect, Harmon does it with irreverent wit.”

The Fugard Theatre production features Lara Lipschitz as Daphna, a devout Jew, Glen Biderman-Pam as Liam, Daphna’s secular cousin, Oliver Booth as Liam’s younger brother and Ashley de Lange as Melody, Liam’s non-Jewish girlfriend. After the death of their grandfather, the cousins are propelled into a domestic battle over a family heirloom.

Greg Karvellas.

Tell us a bit about the background of Bad Jews.
It’s is a new(ish) play that tells a story about remembrance and legacy, and how that ties into identity and – more specifically – the Jewish identity. Although the themes and humour of the play focus on what it means to be Jewish, the story is totally accessible to everyone and speaks to the human condition as a whole. This is partly what makes it such a great play – that and the blistering humour.

How did it happen that it was staged at the Fugard?
Eric Abraham, the founding producer and owner of the Fugard Theatre, saw the production in London and secured the rights for it to be done in South Africa. I was asked by him and Daniel Galloway, the executive director of the Fugard Theatre, to read the script – and I fell in love with it instantly.

Bad Jews is a four-person play. Do you enjoy working with a smallish cast, in a relatively intimate space?
Absolutely! I have always been attracted to wordier plays with smaller casts where the bulk of the action happens in the dialogue. A play set in one place, with characters using words to dominate, entice, silence or destroy, has always excited me – and Bad Jews has all of that.

Do you think it resonates at all with the kind of themes raised in A Human Being Died That Night, which you worked on?
It’s a very different kind of production in that it’s a comedy, but it does touch on some similar themes, specifically in relation to how we remember events and how that affects us and our current way of looking at things. Remembering the past is a tricky business.

Bad Jews opens on October 27 at the Fugard Theatre, Cape Town

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