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Bad Jews - Off-Broadway

Roundabout Underground presents Joshua Elias Harmon's new drama.

Philip Ettinger on the Fun of Getting Caught in a Family Feud in the Off-Broadway Hit Bad Jews

Philip Ettinger on the Fun of Getting Caught in a Family Feud in the Off-Broadway Hit Bad Jews
Philip Ettinger photographed for by Caitlin McNaney
'It’s kind of cool to have to respond without using words.'

Age & Hometown: 28; Fair Lawn, NJ

Current Role: A scene-stealing performance in Bad Jews as Jonah, who finds himself trapped between his brother and cousin in the battle for ownership of a religious heirloom belonging to their late grandfather.

Chai There: Nobody had to explain the premise of Bad Jews to Philip Ettinger, who grew up in a kosher home in suburban New Jersey. “My dad actually has a Chai necklace that he wears every day,” the young actor says of the Hebrew symbol for life, which sparks a brutal war of words (and worse) in Joshua Harmon’s hit play. “He got it from my great grandfather, who I’m named after, and my grandfather was a [Holocaust] survivor.” Ettinger neglected to mention this biographical tidbit to Harmon, who was shocked to learn of the real-life parallels on opening night. “I guess it was meant to be,” the laid-back actor says with a laugh.

Stagestruck: After having no luck getting cast in high school shows, Ettinger headed to Emerson College to study film directing. But after winning the lead in a play freshman year, he enrolled in a summer program at NYC’s famed William Esper Studio. A teacher there urged him to transfer to the acting conservatory at Rutgers, which included a year abroad studying at London’s Globe Theatre. “It was the first time in my life I did something just for myself,” he says of that initial acting class. “I had always kept everything in, and I just exploded and opened up. I knew at that moment that this was what I had to do.” Since graduation, Ettinger has popped up in films like Twelve and Compliance and an episode of TV’s Girls.

Sounds of Silence: In a play dominated by two motor-mouth characters, Ettinger commands attention as the sweet, conflicted Jonah. “If you look at the script, there are pages and pages where I don’t say anything,” he admits. “But it’s kind of cool to have to respond without using words. Sometimes I get so caught up in listening that I forget 400 people are watching us.” Ettinger’s laconic comic performance has been likened to Michael Shannon, and the young actor couldn’t be more flattered: “My favorite stage actors are Mark Rylance and Michael Shannon, so to get that comparison is incredible.” Ettinger hopes to continue mixing stage and screen work, noting, "Theater is so fulfilling, but something you do on film could affect a kid watching it 20 years from now."

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