Tony Award-winning book writer of “Dear Evan Hanson,” playwright Seven Levenson freely admits that he borrowed from conversations and conflicts within his own family in order to populate IF I FORGET, a powerful drama that delves into the hidden dynamics that haunt every family. In a recent interview, Levenson opined, “The past is never neutral, and history is never settled. This play doesn’t attempt to offer any answers; but I hope, in its own small way, it can help to articular why it is so vital that we continue to ask difficult questions, to grapple with painful, uncomfortable subjects.” Directed by Jason Alexander of “Seinfeld” fame, IF I FORGET poses questions about family history and heritage, responsibility, the Holocaust, Zionism, prejudice, dealing with aging parents, and – most importantly – what makes a Jewish family tick in today’s world – with the central question never far from anyone’s mind: Can Jews ever forget the Holocaust?
Michael Fischer (Leo Marks) and his non-Jewish wife Ellen (Sile Bermingham) have come to Washington DC to visit family. University professor and questioning intellectual, Michael has just published a controversial book, “Forgetting the Holocaust,” and is reeling from negative feedback. Michael is, as always, reluctant to see the Fischer family, especially his 75-year-old failing father. His problematic daughter Abby (Caribay Franke) is on a “roots” journey to Jerusalem, where cultural issues appear to trigger a mental breakdown which may have been in the making for years. Enter the Fischer family, including Michael’s rapidly declining father Lou (Matt Gottleib), his controlling and very dominant sister Holly (Valerie Perri), Holly’s Casper-Milquetoast husband Howard (Jerry Weil), Michael’s liberal sister Sharon (Samantha Klein), and Holly’s and Howard’s quietly rebellious, overtly disinterested adolescent son Joey (Jacob Zelonky).
Lou is no longer able to run the family store and has rented the space out to a Guatemalan family who run a bodega. Sharon has taken a shine to the 50-something married patriarch and supports the Hispanic family at every turn. As Lou ages, it has become apparent that he will require expensive around-the-clock care. The solution appears to be selling the store – but the store also represents generations of Fischers, a heritage they are reluctant to dismiss. Meanwhile, business tycoon Howard, who always had big bucks to spare, may not be in such good financial shape at the moment. Michael has been summarily dismissed from his University job and his daughter now requires serious and costly mental health treatment. Everyone in the family is feeling the money pinch. And each has a solution which is at odds with other family members. Where to go from here?
IF I FORGET is an intense family drama, and each family member knows just which buttons to push to get explosive feedback. At the same time, Levinson has woven humor into the often incendiary events. Throughout the play, an ethereal Abby ballets her way around and about the stage as cast members rapidly make scene changes. When Levinson is depicting family communication – or lack thereof – the writing is powerful and draws the audience right onto the stage. Kudos to Leo Marks and Valerie Perri, who manage to add intriguing dimensions to their roles. Other family members tend to be somewhat stereotypical – but will definitely trigger audience’s memories about their own families. In the case of Abby, it may have been more effective to have her remain a cipher who never appears. Some of the pivotal events in the show, while surprising, nonetheless strain credibility. Issues of the Holocaust vacillate between hard-hitting, harsh realism and academic abstraction, which is probably the point. IF I FORGET is a thought-provoking production. Without a doubt, IF I FORGET will keep viewers talking long after the curtain drops.
IF I FORGET runs through September 10, 2022, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays (dark 8/13), and Mondays (dark 9/5), and at 2 p.m. on Sundays (dark 8/14). The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90029. Tickets range from $25 to $45 (Mondays $40 and Pay-What-You-Want subject to availability). For information and reservations, call 323-663-1525 or go online.