It’s hard to say who the “bad Jew” is in Joshua Harmon’s sharp comedy about cousins fighting over an heirloom. The one thing the audience agreed on at the play’s New England premiere was that Alex Marz—the quiet Jonah—gave a powerhouse performance. I had a chance to chat with Alex, a Winchester native, about his new role in “Bad Jews” and what drew him to it.
“Bad Jews,” directed by Rebecca Bradshaw, is at the SpeakEasy Stage Company now through Nov. 29. What drew you to the role of Jonah?
I really love Jonah as a character. What really drew me to him was his presence within the show. He’s written to have so few lines but spends the majority of the show on stage, meaning that I, as an actor, essentially had to decide what he was doing there and why he wouldn’t walk out when the conversations got too intense or nasty. I was also really drawn to the straightforward nature of his character. He doesn’t speak much, and when he does, his brother and/or cousin often steamroll him. But it’s the little snips of lines he is allowed that offer some of the only calm and levelheaded—if ultimately noncommittal—answers to the problems presented.
You have the fewest lines out of all the characters, but your presence is so enormous in nearly every scene. How do you prepare for a role like this?
I had a professor at Connecticut College who always stressed that each character is on stage for a reason. To develop Jonah, I had to find out what that reason might be. And I will admit that it’s not always straightforward. To get into this character I really needed to get him up on his feet in rehearsal, outside of the table work that our amazing director Rebecca Bradshaw worked us through. Jonah doesn’t always speak, but he always listens and always has an opinion. Once Victor Shopov (Liam) and Alison McCartan (Daphna) started their brilliant work in rehearsal, Jonah’s character became a lot easier to grasp. Now I go into each show as a blank slate, waiting for my brother or my cousin to convince me that they’re really entitled to Poppy’s chai. Sometimes I side with one, and sometimes neither. Each performance is different for Jonah. So I guess the best way to prepare for this role was actually quite simple—I listened.
You recently had the challenge of playing Macbeth. How was preparing for that role different from what you just did?
I challenge anyone to find two characters as different as the Thane and Jonah. Both roles offer up certain challenges. Big Mac is a decent and honorable man who lets his ambition spiral out of control into ruin. There are scorpions in his mind, pinching him constantly and driving him to murder and madness. That was a blast to work with, though terrifying at times, not to mention physically exhausting—our incredible fight choreographer, Conor Olmstead, trained the cast in daggers, heavy broadswords, axes and aggressive shield fighting, and the results were intense and extensive fights straight out of the dark ages. Jonah, on the other hand, is a peacekeeper, or at least he tries his hardest to be. His presence is intentionally understated, and his thoughts are private. For Jonah I spent much more of the rehearsal process in the background deciding how I felt about what was happening in front of me, rather than commanding focus and power as I did with the Thane.
Are you a “good Jew” or a “bad Jew”?
Oh, gosh, well I’m certainly a Jew! I’m sure of that. Whether I’m a bad Jew or good Jew I can’t really say. I don’t let my faith define me, but I’m proud to say it has contributed to the man I am today. I’m a modern, 20-something Jew. Good or bad is beyond me.
Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!