The Ridgelea Reports on Theatre

"The Chosen" at Playhouse on Park

Two guys meet on a baseball field in 1944. One knocks the other out by slugging a ball right at him, so they actually get to meet in the hospital the next day when Danny comes to apologize to Reuven, and hopes he’ll be OK. He will. And that’s the ‘don’t let your eyes wander’ beginning of this beautiful production of Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen” at Playhouse on Park. From that smash hit (sorry) right through to the smooth ending, this is a play worth seeing, hearing, and absorbing. For Reuven (Jordan Wolfe) and Daniel (Joshua Whitson) live only five blocks from each other in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, but they have never met before and were not likely to since one of them is from a modern Orthodox Jewish family and the other -- Danie -- is not only the son of the chief rabbi of the Williamsburg Hasidic Orthodox settlement but is also the son who has already been chosen to lead that community when his father dies.

Orthodox Jews can have strange behaviors. And depending on where they see and how they see traditions, it can seem pretty disparate. Potok delineates the difference between the Hasidic Chief Rabbi, Daniel’s father (Damian Buzzerio) and Reuven’s modern Orthodox dad, Professor David Malter (Dan Shor). Both of these men are distinguished scholars of the Talmud. Both of them are important and impressive Jewish leaders in the New York of World War II. Both of them are deeply devoted to their sons’ growth and development. But their conclusions about Israel and the future of Judaism are initially far apart. So far that at one point, after Reuven and Daniel have cemented their friendship, Daniel has to tell Reuven that they may never speak again.

Daniel has been raised by his father in an atmosphere of total silence -- his way, except when they are studying Torah and Talmud, of forcing Danny to learn and explore with his own brilliant mind and not to rely on others. Ironically that has led to Danny’s exploration of Freudian psychology and a number of thoughts that are outside the Hasidic Box. Reuven, on the other hand, also uses his brilliant mind to explore, but has had warm encouragement by his father. The story of the play is deliciously wrapped in the trappings of fathers and sons. It is narrated by a grown-up version of Reuven (David Gautshy), who also speaks the lines of several persons like professors or doctors, so the full cast of this Ensemble is five men, terrific actors, in nicely developed roles, with the help of Director Dawn Loveland. And the beautiful conclusion, from the Talmudic scholars, is that truth may be found on both sides!

Christopher Hoyt’s scenic design along with Aaron Hochheiser’s lighting, and Joel Abbott’s sound, work beautifully, and Kate Bunce’ costumes are authentic to the last detail.

I so commend and highly recommend this handsome production.

Tickets and Information at www.playhouseonpark.org or 860-523-5900

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre.

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