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New play at Unicorn focuses on views of the younger Jewish generation


Photo by Cynthia Levin

A new play at the Unicorn Theatre is promising to have a lot of chutzpah this fall.

{mprestriction ids="1"}"Bad Jews," a new play by Joshua Harmon, will run performances at The Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main Street, Kansas City, from Oct. 22 to Nov. 16. Directed by Cynthia Levin, "Bad Jews" tells the story of Daphna who reunites with her cousins on the day of their grandfather’s funeral in the Upper West Side of New York City. When her cousin brings home his non-Jewish girlfriend, a hilarious brawl ensues over a family heirloom.

"There are not a lot of contemporary plays that deal with being a Jew, so I thought this was a great opportunity to present a show that addressed that," Levin said. "One of the themes is how we choose to follow (or not) religious guidelines and traditions. How our cultural background shapes who we are. Important issues about assimilation and identity are brought up throughout the evening."

Levin said that "Bad Jews" fits perfectly in with the Unicorn’s mission of producing plays from the perspective of young people while commenting on a number of contemporary issues. Plays like "Bad Jews" are the theater’s attempt to explore what the younger generation is talking about today.

"I try to find stories that are provocative and entertaining while also educating. People can’t actually know what it feels like to be all of these diverse characters we portray on the stage, and it is up to us to research, empathize and present them honestly and fairly. In that vicarious way, we get to understand people different from ourselves. I find it is my responsibility to put these stories on stage. To present real people that you would not meet otherwise. The Unicorn looks for plays about what it means to be an adult in our world."

Levin admitted the title could be somewhat provocative.

"I think the title gets people interested," she said. "It’s not about Jews behaving badly but about people’s perceptions of what makes a ‘good’ Jew."

Levin is beginning her 36th season as the Producing Artistic Director with Unicorn Theatre and says she is constantly looking for new plays that are not widely known. Unicorn Theatre is a member of the National New Play Network (NNPN) which shares scripts with over two dozen theaters throughout the country. With "Bad Jews," she was given the script from a friend who tried out for the play in New York City.

"A friend of mine who moved to New York sent me the script to read," Levin said. "After that I went to New York and saw the play and then I knew I had to do it."

That friend is Dina Thomas, who will play the lead in the Unicorn’s production. Her husband, who converted to Judaism, is also an actor in the play.

"There are a lot of different backgrounds that are coming together," she said.

At a compact 80 minutes long, Levin says seeing this play is a wonderful experience.

"The play is funny while also dealing with dramatic themes," Levin said.

Performances run Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 pm. Anyone unable to afford a ticket may attend Pay What U Can at performances on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. These performances allow patrons a chance to see the Unicorn shows even if a trip to the theater would not normally be in their budget.

"There are many reasons that people don’t go to the theater, but I don’t want economics to be one of them," Levin said. "We want as many people as possible to see our performances."

In addition, Talk Back performances, where patrons are encouraged to stay after the show and discuss the play with the actors and director, are scheduled for Oct. 28, Nov. 2 and 9. Levin says the talk backs can be as beneficial for the cast as they are for the audience.

"In the talk backs we can really explore all the ideas in the play," Levin said. "We open it up to people and it is a lot of fun. The audience brings so much and it can change how we view the play. It’s another way that theater can bring different people together to share ideas that we might not have considered before. And I love to share."

For more information on showtimes and tickets, call 816-531-PLAY (7529) or visit www.unicorntheatre.org.{/mprestriction}