If I Forget is a powerful portrait of a family trying to survive in a changing world | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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If I Forget is a powerful portrait of a family trying to survive in a changing world

An intellectual debate escalates into the unwinding of tightly-coiled fears.

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Steven Levenson's family drama, set in the months immediately before and after the 2000 presidential election (but before 9/11) offers a time capsule of the cusp of the millennium, complete with Nader voters, newfangled cell phones, and Internet chat rooms. But the issues it tackles have only grown more pronounced, from gentrification to the eldercare crisis to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (not to mention presidential election shenanigans).

At times, Levenson seems determined to underscore the old chestnut about "two Jews, three opinions." Here, we meet the Fischer family of Washington, D.C., headed by recently widowed patriarch, Lou (David Darlow). His son, Michael (Daniel Cantor), a Jewish studies professor, is about to publish a book with the inflammatory title Forgetting the Holocaust, arguing that American Judaism, which once stood for social justice, has become a culture of "death worship." This becomes the initial inciting event for recriminatory debate. Lou, who helped liberate Dachau, tells Michael "For you, history is an abstraction. But for us, the ones who survived this century, this long, long century, there are no abstractions anymore."

Devon De Mayo's well-cast staging and Levenson's script both keep us on our toes as the arguments ricochet and the Fischer family members unwind tightly coiled fears about declining economic security, emotionally fragile children, and their own mortality. A few moments ring false, but Levenson makes his characters more than political mouthpieces, and the result is a complex and emotionally rich portrait of members of a family trying to hang on to themselves in a darkening world.   v

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