The Chosen – Review by Tom Holehan

Chaim Potok’s classic coming-of-age novel, “The Chosen”, gets the stage treatment in a well-acted and smoothly directed production currently on the boards at the Long Wharf Theatre. The play is one of two bestsellers getting the stage treatment in New Haven with Richard Wright’s “Native Son” now at Yale Rep.

Adapted for the stage by Mr. Potok and Aaron Poser, “The Chosen” traces the growing friendship between two Jewish boys growing up in Brooklyn at the end of World War II. Narrator Reuven (personable Max Wolkowitz) is a traditional Orthodox Jew and the son of a scholar. His new friend, Danny (Ben Edelman), is a brilliant Hasidic Jew who plans to follow in the footsteps of his revered father, Reb Saunders, the head of a Hasidic dynasty. The play deftly parallels the relationship each boy shares with his father and the many contrasts in evidence. When Danny confesses to Reuven that he may want to thwart his father’s plans and pursue studies in psychology, Reuven becomes the unwilling go-between between Reb and Danny. Both boys are torn between their duty and loyalty to their fathers and their own ideas about how to live their lives.

Poser and Potok have done a fairly good job of editing the novel down to its four primary characters while excising at least a dozen others. The novel’s themes of tolerance, family loyalty and holding two contradictory ideas at one time remains strong here as we cover six years in Danny and Reuven’s friendship. It is also a timely view of people with opposing opinions coming together and finding common ground.

Under Gordon Edelstein’s knowing direction, the four actors make for a strong company. Wolkowitz is immensely likable leading audiences through the story while Edelman is his odd-ball counterpart, a character probably on the autism spectrum if that condition was known during this period. George Guidall, as Danny’s father, brings power to the numerous stony silences he inflicts on his son and Steven Skybell is warmly paternal as Reuven’s excitable dad. It’s unfortunate that the playwrights didn’t find an opportunity to put these two strong and complex characters in at least one scene together.

The play could probably be trimmed even further since you pretty much figure out where it’s going by the end of act one and some of the actors’ diction (with heavy Yiddish accents) becomes blurry and hard to understand. The ending also seems more wishful thinking than realistic and I found myself resisted this manipulation.

Technical credits at Long Wharf including set (Eugene Lee), costumes (Paloma Young), lighting (Mark Barton) and sound (John Gromada) all work and, in all, this is a family drama that should comfort theatergoers of all ages.

“The Chosen” continues at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven through December 17. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 203.787.4282 or visit: www.longwharf.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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