Steven Levenson is a young playwright whose two hit shows have enjoyed sold out performances in New York. The first is Dear Evan Hansen, a musical for which Levenson's book won six Tony Awards in 2017, nominated for nine. The second is this serio-comic study of history, social evolution, and family dynamics, If I Forget, which
finished its run in New York in April 2017. Austin's Southwest Theatre Productions is currently presenting the Texas premiere of If I Forget at the Santa Cruz Theatre for only ten performances.
This script is not content merely to present interactions among family members for entertainment. Family relationships are established early and form the basis for a meaningful examination of how - or whether - one defines oneself according to heritage. Michael Fischer (played artfully by Luke Hill) is the axial character around which these issues swirl, a Professor of Jewish Studies who dares to publish his unpopular opinions on Jewish identity while on the brink of tenure.
His father Lou Fischer (perfectly cast Garry Peters), with vastly greater personal experience on the topic, initially appears resolved to watch quietly as the new generation molds the future. Lou's heart-wrenching monologue to Michael near the end of the first act, however, reveals shocking truths that the son's life of academia never did.
The seven-person cast is excellent, with each character filling a familiar role within the family dynamic of this non-practicing
Jewish family. Michael and his sisters Sharon (Beth Burroughs) and Holly (Brandi Andrade) have an intimacy accumulated from a lifetime of being both spectators of and participants in one another's lives. All three actors bring believability to their roles. Watching them together has a natural feel, as their social filters relax in one another's company, revealing archaic sibling scars, sometimes a bit of familiarity-bred contempt, but with a solid foundation of mutual love.
Michael's non-Jewish wife Ellen (Lara Hollaway) is a full member of the group, and in many ways becomes the heart of the story when their unseen daughter suffers an emergency while abroad. Howard (Daniel Norton), husband of Holly and a successful lawyer, is a tolerated and awkward in-law, not quite fitting in with the family dynamic. His position as a bit of an outsider provides clever opportunity to disarm tense moments with wit and laughter, but also some tense moments of his own. Joey (Jacob Bernelle) is the teenage son of Holly and Daniel, a millennial who often seems tuned out of the cultural conflict being played out in front of him. But make no mistake; he is taking it all in.
The presentation is tight, like a concert by a well-performing stage band. Each actor in the ensemble knows what to expect from the others. They frequently interrupt and talk over one another, and display the casual closeness that is always seen in family interactions. The acting itself resembles film more than stage, more real life than performance, and this is universal across the entire cast. There are no weak links. Quieter dialogue is not projected out for the mere benefit of the back row. This occasionally prompts the audience to lean forward in the chair and invest greater attention than simply sitting back and letting the performance come to you. Indeed, a back row seat is a good idea for this performance, as a large portion of the action takes place to the audience's immediate right on this L-shaped stage.
Director Kat Sparks (Exit 27, Cages) has again chosen to direct with a higher voyeuristic feel, allowing us to watch as a fly on the Fischer’s wall. A particularly artistic blocking choice was to place
Michael facing away from the audience during an especially confrontational rant. His angst is conveyed through his voice; his face doesn't need to be in view for that. More importantly, this position focuses attention on the other actors as they listen. It's a bold choice for a stage play, but Sparks is not delivering a standard stage production.
This is an exciting night of theatre. With exceptional acting, directing, and fresh staging concepts, this production of If I Forget reminds us how delightful it is when a team of artists is firing on all
Lynn Beaver is Stage Manager for this and many previous SWTP productions. Jan Wallace Phillips and Ed Trujillo designed and built the set. Lighting design is by Ryan Salinas, owner and operator of Santa Cruz Theatre.