NEW YORK—Under Gordon Edelstein’s direction, a short, intense play that packs a powerful punch is Aaron Posner’s My Name Is Asher Lev. Based on the Chaim Potok novel of the same name, it centers on a young man growing up in Brooklyn, New York, in the World War II era.
A member of an Orthodox Jewish family, Asher (Ari Brand) is blessed (or cursed) with a gift that is at odds with the traditional religious views of his father, Aryeh (Mark Nelson). Asher is a painter—compulsively so. He must paint.
Further, Asher’s chosen subject matter, religious figures such as Jesus, offends Aryeh to the core. Aryeh feels that Asher is wasting his time. Why does the boy not devote himself to his studies?
Asher’s mother, Rivkeh (Jenny Bacon), runs interference between the two men in her family and protects Asher as best she can. But she is no match for her husband, whose life is devoted to his strict Hasidic views and whose profession it is to create Hasidic communities throughout the world, primarily in Europe.
But when Aryeh offers to take Asher abroad with him, the young man refuses, insisting on staying at home where he can continue to develop his craft.
Later, the Reb (leader of the Jewish community here) wisely puts Asher in touch with an older, experienced artist, Jacob Kahn. Kahn takes the young man in hand and mentors him, putting him on the road to further developing his talent, which the older man recognizes as major.
One particularly potent scene shows Jacob urging Asher to paint, for the first time, a nude female model. Asher’s inherent modesty makes this difficult for the lad, but he finally acquiesces, realizing that this act is necessary if he is to develop his craft to its fullest extent.
Also interesting is the scene where Asher explains to his father the difference between a naked woman and a nude one.
Asher grows and develops, ultimately being given a show in New York, which is extremely successful. Unfortunately, as far as his parents are concerned, the major works in the show are depictions of crucifixions, an absolute no-no for those of their faith.
Performances are remarkable. Ari Brand ably conveys the complexity of the aspiring artist with his willfulness in seeking to achieve his goal, but at the same time, pain at going against the desires of his father and the Hasidic community in general.
Mark Nelson and Jenny Bacon portray not only Asher Lev’s parents, but also all the male and female characters in the play. They carry this out so distinctly that the viewer may not realize at first that they are played by the same actors.
Although the play is set in a particular milieu, because of its emphasis on tradition versus change and progress and the issue of father against son, it readily extrapolates to a universal level.
Eugene Lee’s neutral set smoothly adapts to the various needs of the play, and costumes by Ilona Somogyi are wholly appropriate and effective. Lighting by James F. Ingalls and original music/sound design by John Gromada round out the production elements of this powerful play.
407 West 43rd Street
Running Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes (no intermission)
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com
Closes: March 3, 2013
Diana Barth writes and publishes “New Millennium,” an arts publication. For information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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