Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017...1:10 pm

A story for all generations

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World Premier of We Are the Levinsons enlivens MJTC stage

By DORIS RUBENSTEIN

We Are the Levinsons — a new play running through May 14 at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, and authored by Wendy Kout — is something that should be seen by people of a certain age.

Robert Dorfman and Nancy Marvy in We Are the Levinsons (Photo: Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company)

For aging baby boomers and those of their parents who are still active, We Are the Levinsons is a cautionary tale of what can await us — both good and not-so-good.

For the “Sandwich Generation,” it offers reassurance and comfort that they need not be alone in the many challenges they are facing in their lives. Millennial can learn lessons of compassion and the value of speaking to people face to face and heart to heart. In other words, We Are the Levinsons has something for just about everyone!

Playwright Wendy Kout has fashioned a story for us inspired by experiences in her own life. She is an accomplished writer for television, stage, and movie screen — as is the “Sandwich Generation” character Rosie Levinson.

Currently unemployed, Rosie, played by Twin Cities stalwart Melinda Kordich, takes advantage of her relative freedom to care for her beloved father, Lenny, played by the versatile Robert Dorfman. Dorfman is making his debut performance at the MJTC. His impact on the Twin Cities theater scene has been substantial already, considering he’s only lived here for a few years following a wide-ranging career in New York and Los Angeles.

Why does Rosie need to care for Lenny? He’s in the early stages of dementia, accelerated by the loss of his beloved wife, Lil, played for everything she’s got by Nancy Marvy, also making her MJTC debut after a long line of outstanding local performances. Indeed, Marvy admits that she’s playing Lil “…for Mom and ‘the girls’ kibitzing and noshing at the card table when I came home from school.” Though she’s dead for most of the play, she’s a live wire every time she appears to Lenny in his hallucinations.

There is tension between Lil and Rosie when we see them together before Lil’s death. Lil loves her daughter, but despite her demonstrations of pride in Rosie’s work, she’d be happier if divorced-mother Rosie would just sign up for JDate. In reality, Rosie would like the same for her Millennial daughter Sara, played by Adelin Phelps, who seems to be on just about every Twin Cities stage these days. Sara really puts a date on this play, which may be a disservice to future audiences when society advances beyond texting, selfies and the need to get tattoos. But parents of this group today will sigh with recognition.

We Are the Levinsons takes on a lot of serious topics, including racial prejudices and homophobia, embodied by Lenny’s transgender African-American caregiver, Grace, played by budding local talent Alyssa DiVirgilio. With all these heavy issues, how can We Are the Levinsons actually be a comedy?

Hand that job to the two “old pros.” Marvy’s Lil is a real trooper — a real trooper in fact, who gave up her career for wife/motherhood — and loves to break out in song whether the occasion calls for it or not! Dorfman’s early training as a clown serves him well as he mugs for the audience and uses every trick in the body language handbook to expose Lenny’s multiplicity of emotions as he deals with the cards that Time has dealt him. The entire cast takes part in the running joke of the ever-increasing debt owed them by a never-seen Uncle Julius. The biggest laugh of the evening was served up when Lenny encourages his crew to “never give up hope, no matter who’s president!”

The production crew of scenic designer Michael Hoover and costume/properties design Liz Josheff Busa did an excellent job in representing the Levinsons’ Sherman Oaks condo: The tasteful furniture is befitting the home of a middle-class accountant, with just enough subtle touches (like the mezuza on the front door) to let us know it’s a Jewish home. The costumes were just right, too. The glitz on Lil’s blouses perfectly reflect the tastes of a woman of her generation, class and personality. Director Kurt Schweickhardt kept it all together, but lets the play run on a bit longer than it needs to with some unnecessarily complex scene changes.

In the end, We Are the Levinsons is a story of family love: Accepting people for who they are and not trying to make them meet our own needs and expectations. That love comes from shared histories — including Jewish heritage, in this case — and loyalty. It is a lesson that people of all ages can appreciate.

(American Jewish World, 5.5.17)

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