BWW Review: IF I FORGET a Riveting Look at a Family in Crisis

BWW Review: IF I FORGET a Riveting Look at a Family in Crisis

IF I FORGET is the newest play by Steven Levenson, best known as the librettist for the smash hit musical Dear Evan Hanson. It is currently receiving a Texas premiere in a smart and stylish production from Southwest Theatre Productions. IF I FORGET is a riveting and highly emotional look at a family in crisis. Levenson's script is at turns both funny and painfully real when myriad familial skeletons are uncovered as the play unfolds.

Set in the final months before 9/11, the Fischer family has reunited in celebration of their father Lou's (Garry Peters) seventy-fifth birthday. Liberal Jewish studies professor Michael (Luke Hill) has written a book that has not only displeased Lou, it has created havoc with every aspect of his life down to his career. His sisters Holly (Brandi Andrade) and Sharon (Beth Burroughs) clash with him over everything from Michael's controversial and inflammatory book, to each person's version of their family history, and finally, down to the mounting pressures of caring for an aging parent. Soon, calamitous secrets and deep seated resentments come to the surface as the three negotiate just how much of their past they're willing to sacrifice to create a new beginning.

Director Kat Sparks has done a great job with this script, achieving a stark realism that is, for the most part, highly effective. I especially liked how she achieved both realism and clarity during the many familial fight sequences and the intimacy achieved in the confessional bedroom scenes. However, realism aside, I fail to understand how a director can have an actor deliver a lengthy emotional outburst with his back entirely to the audience. This moment doesn't work in a way that is extremely frustrating. We want to see his face and his anger in this moment and instead we are left trying to glean something out of the rest of the cast reacting.

I was also highly impressed with the set design of Jan Wallace Phillips, who has been the first designer to fully utilize the unique two stage set up at Santa Cruz. She has used the smaller stage for the bedroom set and the larger for the family living/dining room. It works beautifully. And speaking of beautiful, Phillips has created a set that reflects the family history and achieves a warm, lived in space full of heirlooms. Ryan Salinas's lighting design works perfectly in support of the production.

The acting here is uniformly good, for the most part; and in some cases, it is quite wonderful. Sister Holly, played by the extremely likeable Brandi Andrade, nails the authoritative persona of the eldest child, yet allows us to see a playful side in her relationship with Michael. Beth Burroughs portrays the baby of the family, Sharon, and as their father's caretaker, artfully walks the tightrope between showing the character's inner strength and being every family's insufferable martyr. Garry Peters, as Lou, delivers his usual impeccable performance. Watch him especially in Act Two, when his eyes reveal an anger that his body can no longer convey. Jacob Bernelle does a notable job portraying a teenager with all the annoying tics that accompany being one but still managing to come across as fresh and charming by avoiding the usual clichés. As Michael, Luke Hill delivers a small and intimate film worthy performance that is entirely too intimate for the stage. I enjoyed his performance as much as I was frustrated by it. When you are being so intimate that the audience has difficulty hearing you, you aren't performing adequately for the space.

In short, IF I FORGET, is a wise and witty look at American Jewish identity and one of those rare family dramas where you actually can believe that the characters are related to each other. IF I FORGET will give you a lot to talk about and does so with a great deal of emotional truth.

IF I FORGET by Steven Levenson

Running Time: Two Hours and Fifteen Minutes, plus one intermission

IF I FORGET, produced by Southwest Theatre Productions at Santa Cruz Center for Culture (1805 E. 7th Street, Austin, TX, 78702).

Performances: Fridays-Sundays through February 04, 2018. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 4 p.m.. One Thursday performance at 8 p.m. on January 25, 2018.
Tickets $22 - $25 plus service fees, available via https://m.bpt.me/event/3182591



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