“MY NAME IS ASHER LEV” A COMPELLING TALE OF CHOICES


By Bonnie Goldberg

Every day we are asked to make tiny life choices, but what if the decision bordered on sacrifice? One young man from Brooklyn, a Hasidic Jew who has deep beliefs in God, finds that his wondrous gift as an artist clashes dramatically with his faith and his family’s and community’s feelings.

 

The struggle between religion and art is personified in Long Wharf Theatre’s current excellent offering of “My Name is Asher Lev,” by Aaron Posner, adapted from the Chaim Potok novel. It will run on the Mainstage until Sunday, May 27.

 

Ari Brand is passionate as Asher Lev, the conflicted protagonist who is forced to choose between two loves. He is caught in the world of his ancestors and the observant Jewish community, and especially his own father who does not understand his compulsive need to create. They are threatened by his art, particularly his fascination with Christian symbolism and the representation of the unclothed female form.

 

His father Ari, a devoted Mark Nelson, has dedicated his life to Jewish causes, traveling to Russia to help better the plight of the Jews trapped there, building yeshivas for study. His mother Riv, a compassionate Melissa Miller, has suffered traumatically when her brother is killed doing similar work to her husband’s and she decides, after her deep depression lifts, to go to college so she can continue her brother’s missionary work for the Rebbe.

 

The play goes back in time to Asher’s childhood, highlighting key moments in his development. It focuses on his introduction by the Rebbe to his mentor Jacob Kahn (both portrayed by Mark Nelson), the painter, an act that changes his life’s direction. Ultimately Asher must choose one path to travel. Gordon Edelstein directs a superb cast in this compelling play of anguish and ecstasy.

 

For tickets ($40-70), call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharf.org. Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

 

Chaim Potok and Asher Lev celebrate much in common in this autobiographical drama that give Asher credit for painting “Brooklyn Crucifixion,” a masterwork Potok himself created. Both try to correct a world out of balance and try not to tumble into the Sitra Achra, the Other Side.

 

 

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