Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 12, 2019

REVIEW: Barrington Stage, If I Forget

Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, MA
through September 7, 2019 (extended)
by Shera Cohen

“If I Forget” what? Or who? There are many answers. Forget family values and relationships, forget that people change, forget that with pain and work there still may be no answers. Each of these thoughts loom forward in Steven Levenson’s play, “If I Forget.” The more important question is; what if I forget the Holocaust? Character Michael (J. Anthony Crane), a non-practicing Jewish professor, continues to over-answer the question throughout the play. To the confusion and/or disapproval of his family members, Michael pontificates that the entire Jewish race cannot be defined by this one horrific episode. Jewish history existed prior to the Holocaust, after, and probably for centuries to come.

While this might seem a complex, sometimes difficult topic for Barrington Stage (BSC) audience to stick with for two and a half hours, it is the playwright’s language, oftentimes couched in humor, and director Jennifer Chambers’ juxtaposition of characters and their spaces which make every minute fly by.

The actors portray seven members of the Fischer family in 2000. Another, unseen, character is equally important as those onstage. Nearly every possible duo of family dynamic is tackled: brother and sister, daughter and father, nephew and uncle, husband and wife, sister and sister, brothers-in-law, mother and her daughter. Each is powerful and poignant.

Primarily an ensemble cast, J. Anthony Crane as the brother/son/husband Michael is in the forefront. His role as erstwhile philosopher who drives his sisters and wife crazy is presented with a not-so-hidden fear of failure of himself and for his family. In Act I, Crane creates Michael as off-putting, feigning confidence. His character’s change at the start of Act II is a metamorphosis. 

Actors Laura Jordan (Michael’s older sister Holly) and Lena Kaminsky (younger sister Sharon) portray real and human with a capital “R” and “H,” respectively. These grown up siblings shout, back off, shout again, hug, and yell “F_ _ _ you!” They step on each other’s lines. Walk into any home; no one speaks to each other in complete, accurate sentence. Neither do the Fischers.

The audience sees Kathleen Wise (Michael’s wife) as a mother, depicting hopeful and scared simultaneously. Mitch Greenberg (Holly’s husband Howard) is given the job to just sit and throw out one-liners until the moment in Act II that calls for Greenberg to present Howard as naïve and rather pathetic. Robert Zukerman (Michael’s father) literally and figuratively has few lines. As Michael’s nephew Joey, is Isaac Josephthal makes his BSC debut.

Scenic Designer John McDermott has conceived the most detailed, elaborate (not gauche), exquisite set on the St. Germain Stage in BSC’s history. On one level appear five rooms in a house with door frames and furniture establishing definition. 

Some advice; when ads state “Sold Out,” heed the warning. Every seat was taken at this performance. In fact, “If I Forget” has been extended even before opening night.