Theater Review: IN EVERY GENERATION (Victory Gardens)

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by Stephen Best on April 11, 2022

in Theater-Chicago


Philosopher George Santayana once famously wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This quote kept bouncing around my head while watching Victory Gardens Theater’s latest world premiere play, In Every Generation. The first show on the mainstage since the pandemic shutdown, this challenging Jewish family drama poses a great many questions which the characters don’t always successfully answer or learn from. Holiday family quarrels are relatable in any faith, but the repeating generational traumas and character rivalries in this production intentionally exist within the Jewish religion. So much so that playwright Ali Viterbi was awarded the 2019 National Jewish Playwriting Contest Award for this work.

Yael (Esther Fishbein) and Dev (Sarah Lo) practice their secret sister handshake

Directed by Devon de Mayo, the actors here play the same five characters in several scenes unfolding in 50 year time jumps, past and present. Passover is clearly a sacred tradition to the Levi-Katz family, and we begin in present day as the family gathers. Cast by The Chicago Inclusion Project, the first vignette begins with divorced mother, Valeria (Eli Katz) welcoming her teen daughters and aging parents for the cherished traditional meal. Esther Fishbein plays spirited Yael, a college-aged activist, currently vegan and shockingly dating outside of her faith. Grandmother Paola, a scene stealing Carmen Roman, wants her to settle down with a nice Jewish man instead. Grandfather Davide (Paul Dillon) needs constant caregiving, so enter the fifth member of this quintet, over-achieving, studious daughter Dev. Sarah Lo plays the tightly-wound adopted daughter and caretaker to her grandfather.

Paola (Carmen Roman) checks on her husband, Davide (Paul Dillon), during Passover

At the family meal the first round of questions arise. Is trauma generational? Is it passed down through our DNA? Are we defined as people by our triggers? What makes up a family history when the harsh edges of reality are sanded down into stories passed down to the generations — thus making the uncomfortable parts more palatable and socially acceptable? There are far more questions here than answers and the first act ends with a fiery, hateful, uncomfortable, combative argument between the sisters. It’s unsettling, but not unfamiliar to those who understand family feuds.

Valeria (Eli Katz) shares a moment with her daughter, Dev (Sarah Lo)

The second act starts much more genial, jumping 50 years back in time. We are greeted by the grandparents as young lovers over a dinner date. This portion is by far the most charming and comical of all of the vignettes, but it does also quickly remind us of the seriousness and realities bubbling under in a post World War II Los Angeles. The third segment bumps us into the future. The grandparents are long gone and the mother has succumbed to the complications of ALS. Her adult daughters’ dialog unveils a world that has taken giant steps backwards. Same-sex relationships and celebrating faith again criminalized, a real problem for the lesbian Rabbi character. The world has a 1942 feel about it, once again reinforcing that those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it. We see it everyday on the news now, so this dystopian future isn’t that far of a reach. While the women are adults, petty teenaged squabbles from their childhood rear their heads again. The final segment, another time jump to the past, brings uncomfortable resolutions if not familial unity.

Dev (Sarah Lo) takes a moment for prayer as her family
(Eli Katz, Esther Fishbein, Carmen Roman,and Paul Dillon) celebrate Passover

The barebones in-the-round scenic design is crafted by Andrew Boyce and Lauren Nichols; never has so much action taken place around a simple wooden table and chairs with actual sand accents surrounding the perimeter, like a reverse island in optics. kClare McKellaston’s real-world costuming helps make the characters instantly relatable (no “Judy Jetson” silver space suits in this family’s future). Yeaji Kim’s projections, Hebrew letters scanned across the stage, are totally unique to this performance environment. Heather Sparling’s lighting is effectively subtle.

Davide (Paul Dillon), Paola (Carmen Roman), Valeria (Eli Katz) and Yael (Esther Fishbein)
look on as Dev (Sarah Lo) uncovers the bitter root

photos by Liz Lauren

Paola (Carmen Roman) and Valeria (Eli Katz) face their future together

In Every Generation
Victory Gardens
Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave
ends on May 1, 2022
for tickets, call 773.871.3000 or visit Victory Gardens

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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