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Spotlight on ‘Bad Jews’ actor Matt DeNoncour

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Bad Jews KOn stage now at Lab Theater is Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews. The play pits two cousins, Liam and Daphna, against each other in an acrimonious battle for the grandfather’s most cherished heirloom, a gold medallion inscribed with the Hebrew word for “life” that their grandfather kept hidden from the Nazis during his two-year internment in a Nazi concentration camp by Jonah and Liam Akeeping it under his tongue.

Playing Daphna is Stella Ruiz, who gives a command performance as a highly opinionated self-righteous Vassar senior who feels she should receive the chai because she alone pays homage to her family’s Jewish religion, culture and traditions. Liam, by contrast, admits that he is a bad Jew. He is proudly secular, as Harmon metaphorically underscores by having Liam crawling on the floor Liam and Melody Dof his brother’s Upper West Side Manhattan apartment (probably somewhere near the Dakota and Strawberry Fields) pretending to choke on Daphna’s long, frizzy hair which she incessantly brushes and sheds all over Jonah’s apartment. He plans to marry a blue-eyed blond-haired WASP by the name of Melody, who he improvidently brings to the post-funeral family gathering, and he clearly has no intention of passing on his Jewish faith or heritage to the children they plan to have – as signified by the fact that he has not only changed Liam and Melody Ghis given name from Shlomo to Liam, but the subject of his post-graduate studies is contemporary Japanese youth culture. So why, then, does he want his grandfather’s chai? While he may have no interest in his Jewish culture or traditions, he is sentimental and intends to use the chai in lieu of an engagement ring just like Poppy did when he proposed to their grandmother.

Matt DeNoncour plays Liam, and he is Ruiz’s equal. His portrayal of the smug, self-absorbed, unyielding Liam is no less visceral and emotive than Ruiz’s Daphna. However, where Ruiz’s Daphna is a volcano, constantly Liam and Daphna Grumbling, erupting and spewing insults and incisive psychological barbs, DeNoncour’s Liam is a powder keg. He tries to avoid his confrontational cousin, but his parents won’t let Liam and Melody to stay with them. So, forced to bunk with Jonah and Daphna, he tries choking back his impulse to strangle his cousin. But once he lets loose, he joins the fray with the savagery of a streetfighter who’s taken a kick to the groin.

In one poignant scene, DeNoncour sprawls on the Liam and Daphna Afloor pounding a pillow with all of the rage he’d like to vent on his cousin. In this scene, DeNoncour suggests that there may be a physically abusive side to his character, which the audience also sees a little later as DeNoncour’s character bludgeons Daphna with a verbal diatribe that includes a stream of venomous misogyny, much to his girlfriend’s horror – if not the audience’s as well. But DeNoncour also gives Liam a softer side, which we glimpse when he comes to Melody’s defense and in his proposal of marriage to her.

Liam and Daphna BDeNoncour has undertaken a steady stream of roles since arriving in Southwest Florida several months ago, and he keeps getting better and better with each succeeding part. He was hilarious as Cupid in The Eight: Reindeer Monologues this past December. Before that, in was on the Lab Theater stage in Stage Kiss, where he played Kevin and got smoochy with Annette Trossbach. Last season, he played the austere Auschwitz survivor Otto Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank. Other favorite onstage credits include The American Dream (Daddy), Chicago (Ensemble), Our Town (Professor Williard), Love’s Labours Lost (Dumain), The House of Blue Leaves (Artie Shaughnessy), and Engagement DMerry Wives of Windsor (Doc Caius).

DeNoncour is also an award-winning set and lighting designer. He received a TAG nomination in lighting for Angels in America Part I & II, and both a TAG and OEA nomination for Floyd Collins. Other design and lighting projects include The House of Blue Leaves (Scenic), Crash! Boom! Pow! (Lighting/Scenic) and Avenue Q (Lighting).

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Posted March 14, 2016.

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