BWW Review: IF I FORGET at Studio Theatre - Truly an Unforgettable Theatrical Event

BWW Review: IF I FORGET at Studio Theatre - Truly an Unforgettable Theatrical Event

IF I FORGET at Studio Theatre - Truly an Unforgettable Theatrical Event

Due to popular demand, IF I FORGET has been extended to October 21, 2018l

When I read that Studio Theatre would be presenting playwright Steven Levenson's IF I FORGET I was very excited. Why? Levenson won a Tony Award for his great book for hit musical DEAR EVAN HANSEN. Then I read the play won the Drama Desk Award for Best Off-Broadway play at the Roundabout Theatre in New York (see their informative study guide). Then when I saw what the play was about I really got excited.

This is how the Studio Theatre describes it this way:

"It's July 2000 - the Oslo Accords are falling apart, and in Tenleytown (a part of Washington of DC), a modern Jewish family is fracturing over what to do with their 14th Street real estate (reminded me of A RAISIN IN THE SUN). Their mother has died, their father will need full-time care, and as their adult children debate what to do next, no topic is off limits: American Jews and their relationship to Israel, who's already given enough to this family, a sibling's parenting choices. A political and deeply personal play about history, responsibility, and what we're willing to sacrifice for a new beginning, told with vicious humor and unflinching honesty by Bethesda native Steven Levenson."

Levenson's play is gripping drama but yet filled with humor. When I described the play to my brother, he said, "Sounds juicy." And it is.

I was struck by the terrific set (Designer Debra Booth) in the intimate 200 seat Metheny Theatre. She designed a two-level set. On the first floor is the combination dining room and living room which features a small television set.

The upstairs bedroom features a bed, remnants of the medical needs of an aging parent including a walker, wheel chair, and an oxygen tank. There is a poster of Che Guevara and a Washington Senators pennant.

The attention to detail included family portraits in the living room and even boxes up in the attic.

Act 1 takes place on July 21, 2000 after the collapse of the Damp David peace talks.

Act II takes place on February 18, 2001 and you see videos of Bush v. Gore and Bush's inauguration speech.

The home belongs to the Fischer family. They are reuniting for a 75th birthday party of the patriarch of the family (Richard Fancy). His wife has been dead for nine months. He has three children. Living in New York (Park Slope) is son Michael (the loud and sometimes obnoxious Jonathan Goldstein, a professor of Jewish Studies, who has written a controversial book "Forgetting the Holocaust" on the Holocaust still in draft form. He is a secular Jew married to a gentile, Ellen (Julie-Ann Elliott) a very understanding woman who probably would have converted to Judaism if asked. They have a 19-year-old daughter who attends Middlebury College visiting Israel thanks to the "Birthright" campaign (which offers Jews from around the world a free trip to Israel).

The elder sister is Holly (the brilliant Susan Rome) who never backs down to her young brother. Her non-Jewish husband Howard (the always wonderful Paul Morella) is a successful attorney. They have a young teen-ager Joey (Joshua Otten) who like many teenagers seems aloof from life and has a hard-time keeping his pants up.

Finally, there is the youngest daughter Sharon (the powerful Robin Abramson) an observant Jew.

The patriarch Lou has owned a grocery story for many years and it has been leased for several years to a Guatemalan family. Daughter Sharon has taken a liking to the family, makes sure their rent is absurdly low, and opposes any attempt to selling the store. She has little luck on the romantic front. Her relationship with her Cantor ends when she catches him a very compromising situation. She then falls in love with the Rodrigo, the married father (with a son) who runs the grocery store and is an Orioles fan.

Holly wants to sell the store and open her interior design business called "Spaces and Places".

Michael has given his treatise to his father to read. Finally, after three months, it is revealed that he finally reads it and is astonished and furious with his son's treatment of the Holocaust. Lou in fact was in the Army during World War II and helped free the inmates at Dachau Concentration Camp. His description of that event is riveting. There was not one sound in the theater.

Michael had been waiting for his tenure to finally get approved when the University Board of Directors gets their hand on his book and is summarily fired. He then becomes involved in a massive law suit and wants the store to be sold to help him with attorney fees.

The store by the way can probably now sell for 3-4 million dollars thanks to the gentrification of Washington DC's 14th Street corridor (the location of the Studio Theatre).

The play in a way is like the commercial for Prego tomato sauce. "It's ALL in there!"

Michael's daughter has medical problems that arise in Israel and she may require hospital care. Next... Sharon's husband has run into great financial difficulties that involve a woman he met over the internet.

In Act II, Lou has had a stroke and is living in the living room mainly being taken care of by the youngest daughter Sharon who is a kindergarten teacher in Anacostia. The question raised by many today is how one should take care of ailing parent.

A major subject deal with by playwright Levenson is anti-Semitism, self-hating Jews, assimilation, and religion. Michael yells, "The whole world now eats bagels and they watch "Seinfeld" in Topeka. "He wishes to return to the day when Jews were proud of such luminaries as Emma Goldman and Albert Einstein and who championed civil rights versus today's Alan Dershowitz and Alan Greenspan.

You will laugh, you will cry. There is so much to discuss.

Kudos to Costume Designer Helen Huang, Lighting Designer Michael Giannitti, Sound Designer Nick Kourtides, and Dramaturg Lauren Halvorsen who contributes to the enjoyment of the play by her work in the program. Special kudos to Studio Theatre's Associate Artistic Director for doing a yeoman's work directing a superb cast.

I had the good fortune to attend a talk-back after the show which arranged by the mother of her playwrights for her friends. It was led by Mari Andrea Travis (Artistic Apprentice), Assistant Director John King and they were joined by actors Susan Rome and Jonathan Goldstein.

King related that Director Torney chose the play after a first read. I found this interesting since both Torney and King are Irish.

Goldstein mentioned that due to the thrust stage it makes the dining room table even closer to the audience. The orchestra is only 7 rows.

Both actors raved about Director Torney.

IF I FORGET (the name stems from a psalm) has been extended to October 21, 2018. For tickets, call 202-332-3300 or visit www.studeotheatre.org.

Now playing at Studio X is THE FALL by the Baxter Theatre Centre at the University of Cape Town. Next up at the Metheny Theatre is CRY IT OUT beginning Nov. 14.

THIS AND THAT

Coming to NBC is a 15th Anniversary Concert for WICKED with original stars and Ariana Grande on October 29, 2018 at 10 p.m. Set your DVR's.

Looking forward to Signature Theatre's HEISENBERG playing until Nov. 11 while the musical BILLY Elliot runs October 30 to January 6, 2019.

Toby's Dinner has AIN'T MISBEHAVEN until November 4.

The Hippodrome has LES MISERABLES for one week starting October 9, 2018.

DANCING AT LUGHNASA continues at Everyman Theatre until October 7 directed by Matt Torney's wife Amber Paige McGinnis.

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF at Baltimore Center Stage continues until October 14.

Shakespeare Theatre Company has THE COMEDY OF ERRORS running until October 28, 2018.

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER September 28 to October 21, 2018.

Fells Point Corner Theatre has SEX WITH STRANGERS Sept 14 to Oct. 7.

Spotlighters has LYSISTRATA until October 14, 2018.

The Studio Theatre has IF I FORGET until October 14, 2018.

PBS has just announced its fall 2018 GREAT PERFORAMNCES line-up which will commence on Friday, November 2 and continue November 9, 16, and 23 from 9 to 11 p.m. Look for the Tony Award-winning production of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, a live production recorded in the UK of THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE, John Leguizamo's latest theatrical showcase "John Leguizamo's Road to Broadway", and "Harold Prince - A Director's Journey, a retrospective look at the 60-year career of this Tony Award-winning producer and director.

cgshubow@broadwayworld.com

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