Each Passover, for four millennia, we ask: why is this night different from all other nights? And each year, the Levi-Katz clan has answered, while struggling with questions of race and religion that never seem to get resolved. The family finds strength in tradition (vegan brisket or no); but each year of celebration brings more pressing questions about the future: if trauma is generational, then must we be defined by it? Will we ever be free?
In Every Generation, in its world premiere at Victory Gardens Theater, tells the story of a Jewish family’s struggles, love, along with never ending questions of race, religion and tradition, throughout history. The talented cast includes Valeria (Eli Katz), mother to Dev (Sarah Lo), who was adopted from China, and Yael (Esther Fishbain), a college student who is on summer break from Yale University. Davide (Paull Dillon) and Paola (Carmen Roman), Holocaust survivors, are the parents of Valeria and the grandparents to Dev and Yael.
The play is divided into four parts: April 2019, April 1954, April 2050 and April ~1416 BCE. Each part focuses on three generations of the same family at the table holding a seder for the Passover holiday. In 2019, Valeria holds a bittersweet Seder for her daughters and parents, knowing that this will be the last Seder for her father, who is nearing the end of his life from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). This Seder is bittersweet for Valeria in particular, as she is recently divorced from her rabbi husband who was unfaithful to her. Valeria and Yael have both distanced themselves from the Jewish faith. Yael has distanced herself not just from her faith, but also her family roots, more focused on eugenics and white privilege. Then, there is Dev, who applies to become a rabbi and is very connected to her Jewish faith.
Part two takes the audience back in time to April 1954 where Davide and Paola, young newly weds and Holocaust survivors, sit down for a Seder in Los Angeles. This Seder is also bittersweet as they are both haunted by what they both experienced as Jews during the Holocaust, which then leads to wanting to have children and a playful striptease between the young lovers. Both actors provide comic relief throughout the play as well, which helps lighten up the tense and serious scenes between the characters as a whole when family values, perspectives and thoughts collide.
Part three travels into the future to April 2050, in a now antisemtic and dystopian world, where Jews fear to leave their home due to persecution and violence. This particular Seder only has Dev, Yael and their mother, Valeria left, who is now reduced to a wheelchair and in her last living months, just like her father was. Dev is a Chinese rabbi and gay, leading a large synagogue in Los Angeles, which is no easy feat, while Yael is a doctor and mother, who does not want her children to know they are Jewish, in order to protect them from the violent world they are now living in. Just as in part one, the daughters clash with their beliefs and perspectives on the Jewish faith, family and identity. Valeria, who needs a machine in order to communicate, urges them both to stop fighting, as she will soon be gone and all they will have left is each other.
Part four is the scene that I felt the play could have been left out of the final script. The first three scenes were far more powerful with getting the overall theme across to the audience, while part four felt out of place and unnecessary, resulting in an awkward finale. Part four goes back thousands of years into the past where the family is wandering through the Sianai desert and heading towards the Promised Land. Dev and Yael are not happy when they cannot take their grandparents and mother with them, who are escaped slaves from Egypt. They are told that they need to work together and trust one another in order to survive.
The play as a whole, while well intended, feels at times unfocused and not leading anywhere in terms of theme and purpose, while also trying too hard to get the point across. What is more obvious as the scenes intertwined with each other, is how the importance of family, faith, tradition and following your heart, is portrayed on stage. It is important to follow your heart, even if it does not completely stay in line with tradition. Also worth noting is how the jumps through time provide an interesting perspective of the family members, their lives and how they interact with others throughout three generations. The play shows the importance of everyone following their own path, even if it sometimes falls outside of traditional norms.
Photos: Liz Lauren
In Every Generation is produced at Victory Gardens Theater as part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere. Other Partner Theaters are Olney Theatre Center (MD) and San Diego Repertory Theatre (CA). For more information, please visit the website and Victory Gardens website.