My Name is Asher Lev – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park is asking you to take a leap of faith and enter a world that is likely foreign to you. Pease take that leap for there are many rewards to be gained. This is a story of art wrapped in religion, where the conflict is great, a mixture that is not kosher in the most basic of terms.

That struggle between religion and art is personified in the current excellent offering of “My Name is Asher Lev,” by Aaron Posner, adapted from the Chaim Potok novel. It will run until Sunday, May 12.

A sheltered 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.

Jordan Sobel is sincere and 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 and to draw. His parents are threatened by his art, particularly his fascination with Christian symbolism and the representation of the unclothed female form.

His father Aryeh, a devoted Dan Shor, 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 Rivkah, a compassionate Stefanie London, 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, when his drawing is as natural and necessary as his breathing. It focuses on his introduction by the Rebbe to his mentor Jacob Kahn (also portrayed by Dan Shor), the painter, an act that changes his life’s direction. Ultimately Asher must choose one path to travel. He will not apologize for his choices, even if it means a permanent alienation from his family and community. Joseph Discher directs a superb cast of three in this compelling play of anguish and ecstasy.

For tickets ($25-40), call the Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford at 860-523-5900 ext, 10 or online Performances are Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday often at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and often at 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 where evil lives.