‘IF I FORGET’ - POWERFULLY RESONANT DRAMA
Intensely familiar themes roar through Steven Levenson’s gripping 2017 play, “If I Forget,” which opened Friday in its Chicago premiere at Victory Gardens Theater. Levenson, the Tony Award-winning writer of “Dear Evan Hansen,” has breathed life into a stark family drama that examines the enormous personal and psychological challenges of aging and memory, grief and survivor’s syndrome, and coping with siblings and in-laws whose actions and disparate points of view—political and otherwise—cause irreparable harm.
With high-spirited direction by Devon de Mayo, “If I Forget” is set in a Jewish-American home during a period spanning the months before and several months after the 2000 presidential election. In choosing the timeframe, Levenson frames a portrait of Jewish culture against a backdrop of the robust conservative political and cultural shift that pulled at American ideals—a polarizing divide that developed in the months preceding the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks—and the uneasy tension emerging in the Middle East.
All of this unfolds as three siblings gather at the Fischer family home soon after their mother’s death to celebrate the 75th birthday of their father, Lou (David Darlow), a World War II combat veteran and Dachau liberator. Lou’s middle child, Michael (Daniel Cantor), is a 40-year-old tenure-track professor of Jewish studies whose radical views on the Holocaust’s impact on the Jewish-American experience in the 20th century have threatened his scholarly future and unnerved his father, who has traditional beliefs. Michael is also coping with a deteriorating relationship with his (unseen) daughter, who will communicate only through Michael’s wife, Ellen Manning (Heather Townsend).
The future use of a building in a surging Washington, DC, neighborhood, where the family store once flourished, is important to Holly (Gail Shapiro), Lou’s oldest daughter, who wants to establish an interior design business there with her attorney husband, Howard Kilberg (Keith Kupferer). Holly’s plan infuriates her younger sister, Sharon (Elizabeth Ledo), who provides in-home care for her father and oversight for the current Hispanic tenants of the building. Holly and Howard’s 16 year-old son, Joey Oren (Alec Boyd), is the troubled teen in the room who likes Nintendo more than virtually everything else.
The Fischer family legacy, collective experience and responsibility to past—and future—generations lies at the heart of Levenson’s insightful work. At first, you begin to think that if every member of the next generation blew off steam as indifferently as the Fischer family—and then reconciled so effortlessly—we might all be in a better place. Those early forays are merely a setup for what is to come: first, a stunning admission by Lou—a profound and moving moment for the gifted Darlow—that shrouds everything that follows; and then, a wholesale meltdown of the family dynamic that results in only one possible outcome.
De Mayo has assembled a stellar creative team, including a dual-level scenic design by Andrew Boyce, and lighting design by Heather Sparling. Infused with skillful, piercing wit that upends the piece early and often through the interaction of the superbly talented cast, the story exposes flaws and vulnerabilities, as well as the effect of the trauma-inducing reality that lies in wait within our memory. Those riveting and impassioned confrontations on religion, politics, race and economics make “If I Forget” a powerfully resonant drama about the importance and enduring strength of family over all else.
VICTORY GARDENS THEATER
IF I FORGET
through July 7, 2019
2433 North Lincoln Avenue
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