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Poppy's Chai Takes Many Forms With Bad Jews Across the Country

Regional casts of the popular new comedy pass on their own family lore — because what's more Jewish than tradition?

No one saw it coming, but bad Jews are sweeping the nation.

Since premiering off-Broadway with Roundabout Theatre Company in 2012, Joshua Harmon's dark family comedy has skyrocketed to the top of the list of most-produced plays of the 2014-15 season. According to American Theatre magazine, Bad Jews holds the No. 3 slot, closely following two Broadway alums: Christopher Durang's Tony-winning Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and John Patrick Shanley's Tony-nominated Outside Mullingar.

At the center of Bad Jews is an ugly brawl between cousins Daphna and Liam, who vie for their recently deceased grandfather's Chai necklace — a treasured family heirloom. As various cities throughout the country boast their own Daphna-and-Liam scuffles, we asked three pairs of contentious cousins from current productions to share stories of tokens passed down through their own (less dysfunctional) bloodlines.

Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia

Sofie Yavorsky and Davy Raphaely as Daphna and Liam in the Walnut Street Theatre production of Bad Jews, running through December 28.
(© Mark Garvin)

Sofie Yavorsky (Daphna): "My mother has always worn a ring that my sister and I greatly admired. When my sister graduated high school, my mom bought my sister a matching ring, and then when I went off to college she did the same for me. Now the three of us share this ring together, and whether I buy a new ring or just pass it on, I hope that I can keep this ring in my family for generations to come."

Davy Raphaely (Liam): "My grandfather on my mother's side passed away years before I was born. After his death, my grandmother gave his beloved engraved watch to my father who, just a few years ago, passed it along to me. Along with the watch, my dad has told me everything he knew about my grandfather. I plan to pass the same — both the watch and my knowledge about my grandfather's life — to my own children someday. It's pretty amazing how when I hold the watch, basically just a ticking clunk of metal, that I feel much closer to this beautiful man I never met."

SpeakEasy Stage Company, Boston
Alison McCartan and Victor Shopov as Daphna and Liam in the SpeakEasy Stage production of Bad Jews, running through November 22.
(© Craig Bailey)

Alison McCartan (Daphna): "I come from a very Irish family, and every grandchild on the McCartan side has had a tree planted in their name somewhere in Ireland. In Bad Jews, Daphna and Liam are fighting over an heirloom that they believe will help them carry on their family's legacy. The McCartan trees, however, are something that all the grandchildren can share in and enjoy, as can the people and environment of Ireland. Just like chai means "life," our trees are literally living representations of our family in Ireland."

Victor Shopov (Liam): "There is a small gold cross that has been passed down to the oldest male heir in our family, and is currently in my brother's possession. It was given to him by our grandmother on his twenty-first birthday. However, unlike with Liam and Daphna, there was no fight over it. I think he and I both appreciate that there is something, however small, that has been passed through the hands of our families for several generations, and I think we're both looking forward to seeing that tradition continue."

Studio Theatre, Washington, D.C.

Irene Sofia Lucio (right) and Alex Mandell as Daphna and Liam in the Studio Theatre production of Bad Jews, running through December 21.
(© Teddy Wolff)

Irene Sofia Lucio (Daphna): "There's a teddy bear that my grandfather gave me when I was four years old. To get the bear, a family had to eat an extra-large pizza at Pizza Hut. My grandfather made four people eat the entire pizza for me to get that bear. I will never get rid of it. It reminds me of the sense of humor, dedication, and devotion my grandfather had toward his grandchildren."

Alex Mandell (Liam): "In 1978 my father moved to Israel to live and work on a kibbutz in the foothills of the Golan Heights. Before he left, his father gave him a twenty-dollar bill bearing his grandparents' signatures for luck. My dad carried that twenty-dollar bill wherever he went, and it seemed to serve its purpose. He survived running through a live minefield, a month of PLO shelling and air strikes from Lebanon, and when he flew to Cyprus for what he thought would be a little vacation, an Egyptian raid which resulted in a night of heavy gunfire at the Larnaca International Airport. Through all the intense, near-death experiences, the twenty-dollar bill kept him safe, and he has since given it to each of my sisters on their respective trips to Israel. They have accepted the bill with caution, however, questioning the 'luck' that seems to accompany it."