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Longtime JFest playwright Ali Viterbi returns with new drama ‘In Every Generation’

"In Every Generation" cast, from left, Judith Scarpone, Rebecca Futterman, Ron Orbach, Sabrina Liu and Lisa Robins.
The cast of San Diego Repertory Theatre’s “In Every Generation,” from left, Judith Scarpone, Rebecca Futterman, Ron Orbach, Sabrina Liu and Lisa Robins.
(Rich Soublet II)

The world premiere play is the centerpiece of San Diego Rep’s 29th annual Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival

Over the past 15 years, playwright Ali Viterbi has been an integral part of San Diego Repertory Theatre’s annual Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival.

The 29-year-old San Diego native has been a writer for the JFest’s “Women of Valor” show every year since 2007, she has served for over a decade as the festival’s assistant producer and, more recently, associate artistic director, and some of her plays have had early readings at past festivals. One of those scripts is “In Every Generation,” which San Diego Rep is co-producing in its rolling world premiere as the centerpiece of this year’s JFest.

Rep associate artistic director and JFest founder Todd Salovey praised Viterbi’s script, which he has been following since its very first reading at the Rep in spring 2018.

“San Diego Rep has celebrated the blossoming of this beautiful play since its very first draft,” said Salovey, who is co-directing the play with Emily Moler. “Ali blends the contemporary and timeless and has an absolutely unique voice.”

Playwright Ali Viterbi
(Ali Viterbi)

“In Every Generation” is the time-traveling story of the Levi-Katz family, who the audience sees celebrating Passover again and again in the years 1416 BCE, 1954, 2019 and 2050. While taking part in the ritual-filled meal of matzah ball soup and vegan brisket, the close-knit family explores issues of race, religion and intergenerational trauma on issues that begin with the Jews’ exodus from Egypt to the Holocaust of World War II to the near future. Viterbi describes it as a story about immigrants and “what stories we choose to share, what we keep secret and what we choose to leave behind.”

The play has won multiple awards, including the 2019 National Jewish Playwriting Contest, two Kennedy Center Awards in 2020 and the 2022 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award. The rolling world premiere’s first staging was in April at the Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, where reviews were glowing and Viterbi said audience members of all ethnicities and faiths came up to speak to her after performances.

“Some people told me they’d never seen themselves represented onstage before and others said thank you for inviting me to my first Seder,” she said.

Now based in Providence, R.I., where her fiancé works at Brown University, Viterbi said she has enjoyed being back in San Diego for the second premiere, which opened in previews on Thursday.

Viterbi started writing “In Every Generation” in 2017, in the wake of the Unite the Right rally organized by neo-Nazi groups in Charlottesville, Va. At the time, Viterbi said she couldn’t remember a more bleak period of anti-Semitism. But in the years since, she said anti-Semitic acts have grown by one-third, including a 2019 fatal shooting at a synagogue in Poway.

“This play was prophetic,” she said. “I think that’s the nature of oppression against Jewish people. It’s cyclical. We see these periods of peace and these periods of violence. That’s part of what the play is exploring. Passover takes Jewish people from slavery to freedom. We’re always living in this in-between space.”

Viterbi said her own experience with family Passovers helped her create the play’s diverse characters. Her grandfather, Qualcomm co-founder Andrew Viterbi, and his late wife, Erna, have been major philanthropists over the years to local Jewish, educational and community foundations.

“Family is important to me, as is my Jewish identity and rituals. I grew up in family that was very loving, with lots of cultures and languages spoken. It was really important to me to capture that boisterousness and multiplicity of identities and tell the story of a family throughout time,” she said. “Telling our story and that of the Jewish people were something I valued for a long time. That’s the same for every family sitting around a table during family holidays. We all have our family lore.”

“I think this play is also about connecting to a community that is greater to ourselves as individuals,” she said. “There’s a line in the Passover Haggadah, the book you follow in the Seder, that says ‘In every generation a person is obligated to see themselves as though they went out from Egypt,’ so you can imagine yourself into the circumstances of others.”

While Viterbi has written many Jewish-themed plays, she has also written plays on lighthearted topics like “The Bachelor” TV show, Grateful Dead fans and sorority sisters. She’s also now working on her first young-adult fantasy novel. But she says that her Jewish identity informs all of her work.

“Judaism is the prism through which I see the world,” she said. “I feel very connected to the sense of peoplehood and the importance of family and tradition and belonging to a history.”

Because of the pandemic, many Jewish families haven’t been able to celebrate Passover together since 2020 and theater lovers have only recently begun venturing back indoors for shows like “In Every Generation.” Viterbi said she’s excited to be celebrating both of these rituals of togetherness again.

“It’s been two years of a lot of loss — the loss of theater, the loss of gathering with our own families and the loss of being able to honor our traditions. I feel so very honored to share these communal experiences with the San Diego community. It’s my home. I grew up here, and it feels very special to bring this play about home and family to my home and family.”

‘In Every Generation’

When: Previews today through Tuesday. Opens Wednesday and runs through June 19. Showtimes, 7 p.m. Wednesdays. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays

Where: San Diego Repertory Theatre at the Lyceum, 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego

Tickets: $25-$91

Phone: (619) 544-1000

Online: sdrep.org

The cast of San Diego Repertory Theatre's "In Every Generation"
The cast of San Diego Repertory Theatre’s “In Every Generation,” from left, Judith Scarpone, Rebecca Futterman, Ron Orbach, Sabrina Liu and Lisa Robins.
(Rich Soublet II)


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