Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Levenson, a Bethesda native who received the Tony Award for best book for Dear Evan Hansen, sets out to consider a family of American Jews in a specific placeWashingtonand a specific time, around the 2000 presidential election. He gets into trouble as he tries to incorporate every element of the family's story: their history in the city, their Jewish identities, their social and financial anxieties. It's too much for a single performance and might have worked as a limited series for television, each part focusing on a different issue.
As Lou Fischer (Richard Fancy) approaches his 75th birthday, his three adult children gather at the comfortable family home in the Northwest Washington neighborhood of Tenleytown (a two-story set designed with abundant lived-in detail by Debra Booth). Michael (Jonathan Goldstein), a professor of Jewish studies, and his non-Jewish wife Ellen (Julie-Ann Elliott) come down from Brooklyn; their troubled college-age daughter is visiting Israel. The others are local: Holly (Susan Rome), an aspiring interior designer, joined by her second husband Howard (Paul Morella), a lawyer, and Joey (Joshua Otten), her surly teenage son from her first marriage, and Sharon (Robin Abramson), a kindergarten teacher who looked after their mother during her final illness and resents that the others are too busy to share responsibility for their father.
As television news reports describe the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the presidential contest among George W. Bush, Al Gore, and upstart Ralph Nader, the family members share a lot of exposition. Generations ago, the Fischers ran a clothing store on 14th Street Northwest, then an African-American neighborhood in a segregated city; they closed the store after 1968, when riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. destroyed the neighborhood, but gentrification has finally turned it around. (Incidentally, Studio Theatre was one of the early stakeholders in the 14th Street area, which now houses condos, yoga studios, and a Whole Foods.)
Michael is portrayed as the central character, but his journey gets lost in the details of aging parents, money concerns, and a few jarring surprises. The one riveting scene pits Michaelwho has written a book challenging American Jews to look beyond the legacy of the Holocaust and away from Israel if they want to stop feeling like victims of societyagainst his father, who helped liberate Dachau during World War II.
Director Matt Torney keeps the action chugging along, but it's a long slog: the play runs two hours and 50 minutes, including intermission.