Edgy comedy coming to Altoona: Things Unseen presents ‘Bad Jews’

“Bad Jews” isn’t just for adherents of Judaism.

“You don’t need to be Jewish or religious to enjoy and appreciate this play,” said Valerie Stratton, co-artistic director for Things Unseen Theatre Co., which is bringing the modern, edgy comedy to a central Pennsylvania stage for the first time later this month.

Cresson native Bronwyn Katdar is making her directorial debut in “Bad Jews,” which was written by Joshua Harmon and first produced in New York City in 2012. Things Unseen’s production will be staged at 8 p.m. Sept. 9, 10, 16 and 17 and at 2 p.m. Sept. 11 at The Church in the Middle of the Block Cultural Center in Altoona.

Katdar (ka da RAY) said she proposed last year that Things Unseen produce the play that she had first read two years ago while studying acting with The Barrow Group in New York City.

“I fell in love with the story, the characters, the writing and the difficulty of the play itself,” she wrote the Mirror via email.

She and Stratton later viewed a production in Washington, D.C., and we “really liked it,” Stratton said.

“It may be considered a bit irreverent, but it’s also very serious in looking at what makes a person religious or not,” Stratton said. “It’s funny in the sense of family members biting at each other, saying the kinds of things we all have wanted to say at relatives at some point, but they also care about each other.”

The setting is a New York City studio apartment of the two brothers in the play, bought for them by their parents, wrote Katdar. She said the play keeps the lighting and sets simple, a good thing for a rookie director and a small, intimate venue such as The Church, she said.

But bringing it to any stage has its challenges.

“Comedy is inherently difficult due to verbal, tonal and physical timing – plus, actors need to really let go and not be afraid to be ridiculous, loud, vulnerable,” she said. “On the other hand, when does biting comedy become venomous feuding? There is a fine line for actors to walk: The character’s anger still needs to be funny. Their chronic rants cannot become maudlin or morose, or worse: boring.”

In addition to directing, Katdar also plays the female lead, Daphna. She has acted for years, first studying locally and in workshops and summer programs in New York. And working with local productions including Cresson Lake Playhouse, STAR Productions at Saint Francis University for 10 years, Indiana Playhouse and Things Unseen. She also has appeared as a background character in feature films, including “The Pennsylvania Miners’ Story” in 2002 about the Quecreek Mine disaster, and television shows, along with roles in several short films and web series.

Her co-stars in her latest effort include Joe Messina, Amanda Hoover and Aaron James.

“‘Bad Jews’ appeals to the masses as it deals with issues of how one regards the importance or unimportance of culture, the dynamics of family relationships, how to introduce outsiders into the family unit and their acceptance or non-acceptance into the family by family members,” Katdar said. “More importantly, it focuses on how to keep alive generational history.”

The scenario begins after a grandfather’s funeral with three cousins fighting over a family heirloom, pitting “super Jew” Daphna against her secular cousin Liam and Jonah just trying to stay out of the fray, according to a Things Unseen press release. It was called the best comedy of the 2013-14 New York season by the New York Times.

The play is not for children due to strong language, Katdar said, noting that “we use the ‘C’ word and drop the ‘F-bomb’ frequently.

“Do not bring your 10-year-old,” she said. “And, if (adults) feel strongly about such language, they probably won’t be comfortable.”

Mirror Life Writer Cherie Hicks is at 949-7030.