(Cover Photo: "If I Forget" presented by Fourth Wall Stage Company, now playing in Worcester, MA. through May 22, 2022)
By Kevin T. Baldwin
"Let us not burden our remembrances with a heaviness that's gone. I'll note you in my book of memory. " (Shakespeare)
Written by Steven Levenson (author of Dear Evan Hanson)
Directed by Barbara Guertin
Cast Includes: Frank Bartucca, Beth Goldman, Michael Legge, Lorna Nogueira, Fred D'Angelo, Shane Parretti, Mary Potts Dennis.
May 11, 12, 13, 14, 20, 21, 2022 at 8:00pm
May 14, 15, 21, 22, 2022 at 3:00pm
Performances to be held at the JMAC
There is far more to recommend Fourth Wall Stage Company’s production of Steven Levenson’s family drama “If I Forget” but it still requires some minor effort to listen to two and a half hours of the heaviness that comes with family bickering, unpleasant family memories and even more unpleasant family secrets.
Set during the summer of 2000 and winter 2001, the characters incessantly complain about everything from the economy, Jewish heritage, elder care, the 2000 Presidential "Election" (or lack thereof), the Middle East crisis and more.
When they appear to have run out of subjects to complain about, they immediately turn on one another.
Levenson, who wrote the book for the smash Tony Award-winning musical “Dear Evan Hansen” (with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul), seemed to be writing two separate storylines with multiple subplots that pendulum back and forth throughout most of the show.
The two storylines to not really tie in until the very last five minutes of the show but with a riveting conclusion.
A professor, Michael (Michael Legge) and his wife Ellen (Beth Goldman) are concerned about their emotionally troubled teenage daughter visiting Israel.
Michael is Jewish and teaches about Jewish subjects but does not consider himself a “practicing Jew.”
They visit the home of Michael’s father, Lou (Frank Bartucca) who is failing in health not long after losing his wife and Michael’s mother.
Michael’s sisters Holly (Lorna Nogueira) and Sharon (Mary Potts Dennis) are also visiting.
Holly is married to an attorney, Howard (Fred D’Angelo), who is stepfather to her 16 year-old son, Joey (Shane Parretti).
Holly believes she and Howard are well off but Howard harbors a dark secret.
Sharon, a school teacher, has begun a secret relationship with a tenant in a storefront owned by Lou. Holly seeks to evict the tenant and set up a new business there. Michael seeks to sell the whole building to help him through severe legal troubles brought about by his latest manuscript containing a very contentious premise regarding the Holocaust.
It is so contentious many others of the Jewish faith compare him to Adolph Hitler. It also hurts members of his own family...including Lou.
There are many great speeches and monologues in the play with Lou delivering probably the most nightmarish recollection about serving as a soldier in World War II.
He describes to Michael of the horrors he and his fellow soldiers encountered as they liberated the concentration camp Dachau. Bartucca's overall performance as Lou is simply heart-wrenching at times.
Lou suffers a debilitating stroke requiring more care than his children can provide. Lengthy discussions, debates, arguments and all-out no-holds-barred family fights over his continued care take up much of the show’s second act.
The dialogue is engaging and might seem all too familiar for those who have faced this very subject in their own lives. That said, the shift of focus from reactions to Michael’s book from the first act to Lou’s elder care discussions in the second serves to split our attention.
The familial dynamic between the actors is believable as are the performances of Nogueira, Legge and Mary Potts Dennis as the feuding siblings.
The set utilized in the beautiful BrickBox space was fairly well positioned but the placing of the Fischer “family dinner table” rear stage left caused for some awkward blocking at times. There were some wonderfully creative lighting choices made to enhance the show’s conclusion.
If the play had focused solely on the reaction and consequences over Michael’s anti-Israel stance in his manuscript, that could easily been served as a singular play. It could also have expanded on the problems of Michael’s unseen daughter whose troubles shatter Michael and Ellen.
The story of Lou’s stroke and the discussions surrounding his required care could also easily have been served well by being its own story. Yet, an argument could be made that this plot has been discussed before in other shows.
For Levenson, combining these two concepts into a single story must have been a Herculean task, for sure. However, combining both stories seems to reduce the full impact of each. You want to pull for one of these characters and, by the end, you find it hard to root for anyone. If that was Levenson’s intent, he succeeded brilliantly.
Ultimately, and after a two year hiatus, "If I Forget" is certainly a memorable show and it is a pleasure to see the return of live theatre with the Fourth Wall Stage Company.
Approximately 2 hours, 30 minutes including intermission.
Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA)
ABOUT THE SHOW
In the final months before 9/11, liberal Jewish studies professor Michael Fischer has reunited with his two sisters to celebrate their father's 75th birthday.
Each deeply invested in their own version of family history, the siblings clash over everything from Michael’s controversial scholarly work to the mounting pressures of caring for an ailing parent.
As destructive secrets and long-held resentments bubble to the surface, the three negotiate—with biting humor and razor-sharp insight—how much of the past they’re willing to sacrifice for a chance at a new beginning.
If I Forget tells a powerful tale of a family and a culture at odds with itself.
20 Franklin Street Worcester, MA 01608
Tickets and more information at: https://www.jmacworcester.org/