BWW Review: I Won't Soon Forget IF I FORGET at STUDIO THEATRE
I won't soon forget IF I FORGET. Director Matt Torney adroitly brings to life this incisive examination of modern Jewish life "for the head and the heart." Studio Theatre has chosen a local, illustrious playwright's work to kick off its 40th anniversary season: Steven Levenson, of the Tony Award winning Evan Hanson. As the playbill's description illustrates, IF I FORGET couldn't be more local:
"It's July 2000: the Gore/Bush/Nader election cycle is in full swing, the Camp David Summit is falling apart, and in Tenleytown, a modern Jewish family is fracturing over what to do with their 14th street real estate. 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..."
IF I FORGET's two acts fall on either side of the Gore v. Bush election. We feel the impending global change with almost every transition, as violent conflict and impassioned speeches boom from the antiquated television set. Amidst this unrest and transition, the Fischer family gathers for their ailing father's 75 birthday and grapples with American Jews relationship to Israel, differences between religious and cultural Judaism, generational trauma, and the power and fallibility of memory. Did I mention this show is hilarious? Levenson's script raises serious, nuanced, political issues, and manages to alleviate the tension with well-timed, laugh-out-loud one-liners.
Director Matt Torney's all-star cast has infectious energy and chemistry. Jonathan Goldstein as Michael Fischer, the secular and academically provocative Jewish studies professor, takes on his impassioned speeches with aplomb. The charming Susan Rome as oldest sister Holly is an absolute force, and Robin Abramson as youngest sister Sharon gives a remarkably genuine performance. Richard Fancy as the family patriarch and World War II veteran powerfully illustrates the importance of remembrance even as his son asks us to "forget the Holocaust" with his chilling first person account of liberating Dachau. I would be remiss not to mention Paul Morella as Holly's husband, Howard, Julie-Ann Elliot as Michael's wife, Ellen, and Joshua Otten as Holly's son, Joey. There is not a weak link in this cast.
Debra Booth's two-level set design is as useful as it is visually stunning. We glean so much information about the family from each carefully chosen set piece-from the hospice paraphernalia in the bedroom to the throw blankets on the couch. This is an intimate snapshot. Costume designer Helen Huang makes us feel the reality of these characters-a seemingly simple, but decidedly difficult task. While there is very little to critique about this production, I believe the script could use a good edit. Act 2 doesn't have the same spark as Act 1 and lacks the same humor. The scope of the topics Levenson tackles-spanning religion, politics, and history-can, at times, feel too broad and multifaceted for the 2 hour 45 minute running time.
Despite these minor flaws, this is a production worth taking in. You will fall in love with the Fischer family, and marvel at the ways this cast paints such a realistic portrait of a loving family in crisis. You too will wonder how we can honor our past while still pushing into the future.
Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg
Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission