Review by Holli Harms
February 28, 2017
It’s the summer of 2000, and there are murmurs of discord in the Middle East as the Oslo Accords are being dismantled once again. In a middle-class Washington D.C. neighborhood three adult siblings and spouses have gathered to celebrate their aging father’s (Larry Bryggman) birthday. This family, of sometimes practicing Jews sometimes not, of sometimes loving siblings sometimes not, confronts the core of who they have become: Jews and Atheists, Republicans and Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives. As in real life we watch as the lines between all these senses of self get muddled by each individual as they flip flop between the ideas and ideals of their practices and beliefs. This is a play of family stories and identity, of the history of a family and the history of a people. A family that must use that history to deal with an aging parent, money, job losses, things being taken, and of beliefs questioned, attacked, examined, turned over, reversed and regurgitated.
We open with Michael (Jeremy Shamos) and his wife Ellen (Tasha Lawrence) on the phone with their daughter Abby who is in Jerusalem on a birthright tour. With the inevitable Second Intifada looming over the Middle East, Michael is very concerned for his daughter and wishes she were back home. Abby’s reply is, “I am already there.”
Michael is working on his book titled “Forgetting The Holocaust,” posting the argument that the Holocaust has been an albatross to the Jewish people. It has done nothing but hold everyone back in a constant churn of victimization and separation keeping the Jews on one side and everyone else on the other. This is not a new argument, but as a professor and up for tenure it is a dangerous one to be presenting to the world in book form. Already there is a petition against Michael and his opus. Michael fights against his Judaism as his younger sister Sharon (Maria Dizzia) embraces it, as his daughter embraces it and even his gentile wife is so very happy that their daughter is in Israel finding out about her history.
Michael’s oldest sister, Holly, (Kate Walsh) and her husband Howard (Gary Wilmes) and their teenage son Joey (Seth Steinberg) are there not only to celebrate dad’s birthday, but also to discuss the family’s only inheritance – a building the family has owned for over three generations. Holly would like to throw out the current tenants, a Guatemalan family who run a bodega in the storefront of the building and live upstairs, for her own business endeavors. The rent the Guatemalans are paying is at cost and Holly thinks best to kick them out and turn the space into her office for her “soon-to-be house design company”. Her husband, Howard, is a successful lawyer and they are willing to pay much more for the space and that money would help dad out with his expenses. Sharon disagrees and is up for the fight, for the only thing left that is their inheritance, the one thing to be passed down to the next generation and the next – that building, that storefront. Here again is the fight of identity – to keep it or to give it up. Does giving up mean forgetting? If they let go of the Holocaust, of their building, of the things that tether them together as a clan do they then forget forever their past lives and stories of who they are as family? Do we all hang on to the past too much? Do we need to let it go especially when it no longer brings us comfort or sense of home? And can we make changes and yet remain the same?
The play flies by on the wings of lightning and thunder due to the smart, fast, clever, hilarious dialogue of Steven Levenson (Masters of Sex, Dear Evan Hansen), the carefully choreographed staging of Daniel Sullivan and the amazing performances of this ensemble. Everyone is perfect, particularly, Kate Walsh, Jeremy Shamos and Maria Dizzia, who are ablaze as the three argumentative, fire throwing, loving siblings.
I left the theatre with so many thoughts and images and questions in my head. I left the theatre changed. The show closes April 30th. You have some time but not much. Go.
"Steven Levenson’s passionate and provoking 'If I Forget' is a family play, a political play and a kitchen-sink play."
Alexis Soloski for New York Times
"The plot snowballs in the final stretch. Still, the excellent cast mines every bit of fury and humor. 'If I Forget' is whip-smart, bold and, finally, memorable."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Directed by Daniel Sullivan, who has a gift for raising dialogue to its smartest expression, If I Forget is ambitious and often very funny."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"This superbly acted play is engrossing from first minute to last."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter
"In the tradition of domestic drama, Levenson’s play involves a lot of talk and precious little action. But the talk is surprisingly gripping, especially when one secret after another is teased out of the siblings."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
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