Actor in Steven Levenson/Jason Alexander production If I Forget has Tidewater connection

by | Aug 11, 2022 | Other News

Previews began July 20 at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles for the new play If I Forget, and a young actor with ties to Virginia Beach is playing the part of Joey. Jacob Zelonky, who has been in the Broadway tour of Billy Elliot, is one of three children of Barb Gelb of Virginia Beach and Robb Zelonky.

The play is set in the months preceding 9/11 and is about a Jewish family who is struggling with their different versions of family history and long-held resentments.

At 23 and already a veteran actor, Zelonky’s first role was actually his birth on TLC’s A Baby Story. The debut he remembers, though, was in a production of Fiddler on the Roof when he was just three years old.

Acting became attractive to him because he found he was able to put everything aside. “I can just fully immerse myself in my performance. When I realized this, I knew I wanted acting to be my life,” he says. “I also think stories have such an incredibly underrated impact on people, and when I felt that effect on my own life, I knew I wanted more than anything to help use storytelling to further important representation.”

The roles he most appreciates are those where body diversity is portrayed. “It’s very important to me that I play roles that can show audiences you don’t have to look a certain way to be a hero or a love interest or actually be worthy of a full, compelling story,” he says.

In If I Forget, Zelonky plays Joey, a character he calls “a bit of an enigma.” Zelonky says he is excited to be involved in a work by playwright Steven Levenson (Dear Evan Hansen and tick, tick…BOOM!). “He’s one of my favorite playwrights and I think he does an incredible job…writing characters who are deeply complex and layered. Getting to bring a Steven Levenson character to life has been a dream of mine for a while, and I’m so grateful I got to do so with this creative team.” The team, by the way, includes director Jason Alexander of Seinfeld.

To prep for the role, Zelonky digs into “tons of back story” and mentions that memorizing lines is not difficult for him. “The more you do it, the easier it becomes. With stage directions [and] having a director who allows you to do what feels natural, is definitely helpful. Jason has been incredible at allowing us to utilize our instincts while also helping us bring out things I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of.”

If I Forget has garnered high praise and glowing reviews, especially in its handling of the Holocaust as it examines its impact upon a family at the beginning of the 21st century, Zionism, and freedom of expression. The story concerns Michael, a professor of Jewish studies at a prestigious New York university who, with his wife, travels to celebrate the 75th birthday of his recently widowed father. Michael’s sisters and their families are there, too, and they all have opinions on the release of Michael’s controversial new book about how Jewish people need to “forget about the Holocaust.”

Judaism has always been a huge part of his identity and it has helped him relate to the play and its Jewish content. “My parents have both been involved in the Jewish community and worked for Jewish organizations my entire life,” he says. “I feel very connected to the social justice pieces of Judaism. Since this show takes place in the very early 2000s and is in many ways about events long before that, it’s also been a great opportunity to learn more about my people’s history, from major events to family dynamics with religious and political landscapes.”

If I Forget runs through September 10.

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