Theater review: “We Are the Levinsons” is about sending parents on their last journey

By RENEE VALOIS | Special to the Pioneer Press

PUBLISHED: April 23, 2017 at 1:36 pm | UPDATED: April 24, 2017 at 11:29 am

The original article can be found HERE. 

Our parents bring us into this world — and we often have the challenge of doing the opposite, helping them to leave.

The transition can be painful or redemptive, but is usually filled with deep emotions — as is the powerful and touching world premiere, “We Are the Levinsons”, from the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company.

Although the title suggests a very personal story about one family — and indeed, it was inspired by playwright Wendy Kout’s last years with her parents — its theme resonates universally.

The “we” in the title could actually apply to all of us; we are the Levinsons, dealing in our shared humanity, whatever the circumstances, with joy and grief as we struggle to live with — and without — those we love.

We first meet Nancy Marvy as Lil, the lively and advice-spewing matriarch of the family, and center of her husband Lenny’s universe, on her birthday. She and her daughter Rosie rub each other the wrong way, and Rosie and her daughter Sara’s antagonistic relationship seems to mirror that dysfunction.

Robert Dorfman is spectacular as Lenny, who becomes the pivot point of the play. His sense of humor and mischievous smile soften Lil and Rosie’s clashes. But as age and loss take their toll, his loving relationship with his only daughter also changes. Dorfman keeps the character riveting and sympathetic throughout.

Melinda Kordich is strong and believable as the stressed daughter Rosie, and Adelin Phelps makes a convincingly angry and contemptuous Sara.  Alyssa DiVirgilio gives transgender caregiver Grace the virtue of her name, as she helps to midwife the family into new lives.

Kout’s play stresses the importance of family — of love — even when the members of a clan don’t always get along. Grace provides a wonderful outsider’s perspective that eventually helps Rosie and Sara to grasp the preciousness of their bond.

As the story takes unexpected turns, director Kurt Schweickhardt helps us navigate shifts in a way that feels natural. Emotional intensity retains strength without the interruption of an intermission.

This is heartbreaking stuff, but there are also wonderful laughs and likable characters that imbue us with hope. It leaves you with a sense that new beginnings are possible, even in the wake of difficult endings.

IF YOU GO

  • What: “We Are the Levinsons”
  • Where: Highland Park Community Center, 1978 Ford Pkwy, St. Paul
  • When: Through May 14
  • Tickets: $20-34
  • Information: mnjewishtheatre.org; 651-647-4315
  • Capsule: A wonderful world premiere, with humor and heart