In this unorthodox tale of a pilgrimage (of-sorts) to Israel by two young, Jewish 20-somethings, questions of faith, identity and the nature of religion exchange blows. Like faith itself, in Birthright the conviction is there… but in practice, the execution is messy.
Joshua and Becca are two young Jews out on ‘the trip of a lifetime’, their ‘Bithright’ trip to Israel. This very real organisation (You can look it up!) sponsors trips for young adults of Jewish heritage to their ancestoral homeland, and these two have come for very different but inadvertantly connected reasons. Joshua is keen to escape the nagging of his Orthodox Jewish family, who are hell-bent on ruining his life of video games and online pornography with suggestions like getting a job or going to university, but what direction should he take, and will his religious upbringing play a part? Becca resents her parents on the other hand for neglecting their heritage and raising her in a secular home. She feels drawn to Taglit – Hebrew for discovery. In learning her history and the Hebrew, can she discover more about herself? Both young people join the tour to find out, but discover far more off the beaten track when they become lost, than they do on the group’s bus tour.
A promising premise descends rapidly into a muddled farce of Jews behaving badly. There are Jewish in-jokes and other funny moments (I was tickled by Becca’s likening of Joshua to a young King Solomon) but you can feel the writer heading purposefully towards the edge of what you might call ‘insensitive’ humour and pressing hard up against it. Blunt exchanges of arguments surrounding the nature of faith have little poetry to them. Some of the ideas they put forward are interesting, does being a Jew have to equate to a belief in God for example or can it just be about respect for and an understanding of the history and heritage? But it’s hard to pick these thoughtful moments out under the continuous swearing, Joshua’s frankly uncomfortable sexual propositioning and Becca’s exasperating heavy sighs.
To pay credit to the actors, the performances themselves are energetic, playful and overflowing with conviction. They have some fun creating the array of strange characters they encounter on their trip. Aimee Bevan’s tour guide has an instantly recognisable insistent ‘pay attention’ quality to his demeanour, and a slightly disconcerting but well observed fixed grin. David Samson’s dancing makes several appearances in his characters, each of which is a comedic delight.
It was a curious ‘visit’ to Isreal that offered some meager food for thought, heavily veiled in impish humour.