Review: At Victory Gardens Theater, In Every Generation Focuses on Family, Faith and Sisterly Arguments 

A family’s Passover seder table at several time periods is the center of In Every Generation, a play about family, faith and history. Victory Gardens Theater is staging this world premiere production, written by Ali Viterbi and directed by Devon de Mayo, during the Passover season (April 15-23 this year). It’s part of the National New Play Network Rolling World premiere.

The story is set during family seder dinners of the Levi-Katz family. Act one takes place in 2019 and sets the scene for parts two to four, which make up act two. Daughters Yael (Esther Fishbein) and Devorah (Sarah Lo) are home for the dinner prepared by their mother Valeria (Eli Katz). The two family members who are Holocaust survivors—their lively grandmother Paola (Carmen Roman) and grandfather Davide (Paul Dillon), who is disabled—join them in prayer, conversation and feasting.

Parts two and three take place in 1954 and 2050. In the earlier scene, Paola and Davide celebrate their first seder together in America and dream of their future family. The two actors do a credible job of becoming their much younger selves, despite the comical wigs. In part three, middle-aged Yael and Devorah come together at home to celebrate seder, as their mother Valeria, now aged and infirm, communicates with them via an electronic tablet device. In both the modern era scenes, Devorah seems the most devoted to the Jewish faith; in 2050, she proclaims herself “a Chinese Jewish lesbian rabbi.” Both scenes involve discussions of the family’s ancestry and faith and both devolve into shouting matches between the two sisters, followed by reconciliation. 

Yael (Esther Fishbein) and Dev (Sarah Lo) practice their secret sister handshake. Generation. Photo by Liz Lauren.

The unfortunate and poorly conceived part four is set in the Sinai desert in the year ~1416 BCE, with actors, perhaps the ancestors of the modern-era Levi-Katz clan, speaking English and Italian. Anachronistic objects from future generations appear with no clear purpose, except perhaps comic effect. (A can of Diet Coke, for instance.) The play could have ended after part three with no loss and a clearer purpose and focus. 

The Victory Gardens Theater mainstage is reconfigured for this four-part drama. Instead of VG’s standard proscenium theater, scenic designers Andrew Boyce and Lauren Nichols have moved three rows of seats to the other side of the stage, creating an alley stage setting, which works nicely for the three scenes focused on a dining table. The play also offers a virtual program; a QR code allows you to download it to your smartphone. 

A program note from the playwright and director provides context about the meaning of a Passover seder and its relationship to our return to live theater. Quoting from the New American Haggadah, they remind us that “We are not merely telling a story here. We are being called to a radical act of empathy. Here we are, embarking on an ancient, perennial attempt to give human life—our lives—dignity.” 

In Every Generation continues at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., through May 1. Tickets are $29-$68 for performances Wednesday-Sunday with a Tuesday performance on April 26. Running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes, including an intermission. The theater requires proof of vaccination and mask-wearing at all times while you are in the theater.  For more information on this and other productions, see https://www.theatreinchicago.com/.

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Nancy S Bishop
Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at nancybishopsjournal.com, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.

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