August 24th, 2011, 2:30 pm by Sara
August 24th, 2011, 2:30 pm by Sara
Asher Lev (Adam Green) contemplates his difficult choices (photo by Kevin Sprague)
What an amazing amount of wisdom and insight has been packed into the ninety minute play My Name is Asher Lev about a young Jewish painter growing up in a very orthodox household. This play is about being an orthodox Jewish boy, but it could be about any child being talented in a non-nurturing home. Anyone can relate to the story without needing to be Jewish. And if you are, well, then you are in for a real theatrical treat.
This is a play that is likely to hit a nerve, after all. How many of you heard discouraging words about careers in the arts or humanities or other career choices when you were younger. “Be a doctor,” we were told, “or a lawyer, ditch digger, anything, but not an artist!” Especially if you were a male, which meant your whole manhood was often called into question when uncomprehending fathers were terrified out of their wits about the prospect of an “artistic” son. At least with Asher Lev, it was more a question of drawing simply being dismissed as a foolish waste of time better left to the goyim.
I was raised in a conservative Roman Catholic household with a disciplinarian father, and attended parochial school run by doctrinaire Dominican nuns. So I have some things in common with Asher Lev. That’s why, from the moment the lights came up it was impossible not to became totally mesmerized by this story, adapted from the novel by Chaim Potok. His tale grabbed my heart and never let go. With a stern Hassidic father (the Hassidim are the most conservative of the Jewish sects) and a mother who always reminded him to honor his father (and by proxy his every judgement) his home life was stifling, at least to the idea of being an artist. For Lev, art was something that grew, like a seed, from childhood on. Of course, Asher grew and blossomed throughout his childhood and teen years into a great artist. Somehow he also managed – through a feat of juggling – to stay true to both his art and his religious tradition. On stage with all the players and situations it becomes a balancing act of amazing dexterity.
Click to read the rest of this story at Berkshire on Stage.
The Lev Family, Aryeh (Daniel Cantor), Rivkeh (Renata Friedman), and Asher (Adam Green) - engage in thoughtful conversation of life, faith, and art over coffee (photo: Kevin Sprague)
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.
Click to read the rest of this story at GailSez.