New York Post, June 11, 2003
"BLACK & WHITE, WITH REDS ALL OVER"
by Donald Lyons
'A Bad Friend" is Jules Feiffer's sometimes affecting but ultimately unsuccessful account of a Red-diaper baby - a child of Communists who grows up bombarded with propaganda.
Kate Savage is brilliant as Rose, a Brooklyn Heights teenager smothered by the dogmatic certainties of her parents - a tense but explosive mother and a quiet but surprising father, Communists both.
Her mother, Naomi, is a schoolteacher, her dad Shelly is a typesetter, but they spend all their time at peace conferences, rallies and memorials. Jan Maxwell is believably chilling as a woman who, though she loves her husband and daughter, will tolerate no deviation from the party line.
Jonathan Hadary is convincing as the father, this weak man who, though increasingly suspicious of Stalin's anti-Semitism, acquiesces in Naomi's insistence that Stalin can do no wrong.
Rose tolerates her parents, even loves them, but is gasping for air in their tight, airless world.
She escapes to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, with its thrilling view of Manhattan, where she can breathe and sketch.
Here she meets two mysterious characters: Emil, a 50-something artist (beautifully done by Larry Bryggman), who serves as a sounding board for her frustrations; and Fallon (David Harbour), a dapper young FBI guy trying to lure Rose into revealing damning tidbits about her family.
Then there's Morty (Mark Feuerstein), Naomi's younger brother, a successful Hollywood writer who betrays his Communist past.
With its huge posters of a grinning Stalin and recordings of "Which Side Are You On?" and "This Land Is My Land," Jerry Zaks' production attempts to duplicate the smothering embrace of the party in all corners of life.
Feiffer may have set out to damn but winds up offering a bouquet to his neurotic but selfless American Communists: They may have been stubborn, but at least they weren't venal or brutal.
With such enemies, who needs friends?
Copyright 2003 The New York Post.