It is not surprising that I, a woman who spends an inordinate amount of time thinking and reading and writing about theatre art and theatre artists, should adore a play that speaks seriously, intellectually, and spiritually about being an artist and making art. If those are not topics that interest you then this is not the show for you, but I was thoroughly engrossed from the first moment to the last by the characters, images and ideas in this wonderful play. I want to go see it again! I want to listen to those people and think about those ideas and listen for new ones! Luckily, Barrington Stage has extended its run by a week, so all of us have extra opportunities to go.
My Name is Asher Lev is adapted by Aaron Posner from the 1972 novel of the same name by Herman Harold “Chaim” Potok (1929-2002). It had its premiere at the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia in 2009. There, as here, Posner directed the piece himself. He has a very clear idea of how he wants it staged, which he elucidates in his author’s note at the opening of the acting version of the script.
Potok set his novel in an Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn in the 1950’s, when Joseph Stalin was persecuting the Jews in Russia. Both Asher’s father and his mother’s brother are working to effect change in that land far away, and his uncle loses his life in his work. The loss of her brother inspires Asher’s mother to study and take over his work, an unusual act for a woman of her time and culture with a young child. Asher tells us the story of his life between the ages of 5-19, and so it is a coming of age story, but because Asher is a prodigiously talented artist as well as a devout Hasid (the word literally means “loving kindness”) and the intelligent, thoughtful son of intelligent, thoughtful, educated parents, his issues are beyond the ordinary.