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A CurtainUp DC Review
If I Forget
I do believe in tradition. I just don't believe that religion, organized religion, is necessarily part of that tradition.— Michael to his siblings, Holly and Sharon.
if I forget
Jonathan Goldstein (Michael), Susan Rome (Holly) and Robin Abramson (Sharon) (Photo by Carol Rosegg).
The atmosphere created by Set Designer Debra Booth for If I Forget is one of stifling claustrophobia. The walls are covered with a floral print that does not match anything in the living/dining room or bedroom above. You can sense the dust but the stillness belies what is to come.

Three siblings, representing three different approaches to being Jewish are visiting the home they grew up in to celebrate the 75th birthday of their father who still lives there. The pose they strike is one of a united family which could not be further from the truth. Each member represents a different approach to what it means to be a Jew in America, in the year 2000 and 2001.

As the show begins, on a tiny screen in the background, Al Gore is conceding the 2000 election to George W. Bush. History, ancient and relatively recent, is examined in many ways with references to Zionists, the end of the British mandate in 1948 and the ensuing exodus of Palestinians from all but the West Bank and Gaza, the Oslo Accords, and the continuing American financial support of Israel. World events as background to a microcosm.

For the Fischer family such history is a very personal concept. Michael, a scholar/academic on the tenure track has written a book the theme of which is that Jews in America cannot move forward until they put the history of the Holocaust behind them. His beliefs come back to bite him as his future is diminished by the conservative beliefs held by those who run the University where he teaches.

Michael's sisters Sharon and Holly too argue against him. Lou Fischer(Richard Fancy), their father, cannot forget and wants no one else to ignore what he witnessed when, as an American soldier in WWII he was among those who liberated Auschwitz.

Sister Holly Fischer (Susan Rome) is suitably stylish as the Jew who would rather forget the past in favor of a present devoted to thinking about Jews in the movies and consumerism. Sister Sharon Fischer (Robin Abramson, in a performance that stands way above the rest) is the most, some would say only redeeming character. She is an overworked kindergarten teacher who has taken on almost all of the responsibilities for the three siblings' parents. She looked after their deceased mother and is now caring for their aged and impaired father.

Playwright Steven Levenson, who wrote the book of Dear Evan Hansen, knows Washington and Jewish family life well. He grew up here absorbing historical events he now uses as background. For example, the 1968 riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King when 14th Street, NW, was one of the hardest hit areas: stores were looted and burned — except for those owned by Jews such as Lou Fischer who had been good to their black (as African-Americans were then called) clientele.

It took decades for the 'hood to recover from being a derelict and unsafe slum. Studio, under founder Joy Zinoman, pioneered the area's renaissance. Today 14th Street, NW, is the hip, gentrified location of $1M apartments, tony furniture stores, trendy restaurants, Whole Foods, and Studio theatre where If I Forget is playing.

Act One examines the family dynamics in depth. Differing reactions laced with one-liners in the late, great Neil Simon genre are directed with swift wit by Matt Torney. The play moves well leaving the audience at intermission time wondering what comes next. The answer sadly is not much and too much. The snappy dialogue gives way to seemingly interminable arguments (the show runs 2 hours and 50 minutes) on Jewish heritage/inheritance and what to do with Lou, who has had a stroke and needs constant care. Who is going to look after him? How are they going to pay for help? leading to a hokey ending that looks like a setup for a photo shoot. The whole is less than the sum of its parts— a tsimmes that is over-cooked— which is a pity given its first act.

To read Curtainup's review of the excellent New York premiere which also includes links to other Levenson play reviews: go here.

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If I Forget by Steven Levenson
Directed by Matt Torney
Set Designer: Debra Booth
Costume Designer: Helen Huang
Cast: Julie-Ann Elliott (Ellen Manning); Jonathan Goldstein (Michael Fischer); Susan Rome (Holly Fischer); Paul Morella (Howard Kilberg); Joshua Otten (Joey Oren); Robin Abramson (Sharon Fischer); Richard Fancy (Lou Fischer).

Running time: 2 hours and 50 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission. Studio Theatre,; performances began September 12, 2018, no closing date yet. Reviewed by Susan Davidson at September 16 matinee performance.

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