Sunday, February 13, 2011

THEATER: "MY NAME IS ASHER LEV"


I just came from the theater and it was one of the most satisfying experiences I have had all season. I never read Chaim Potok's MY NAME IS ASHER LEV but this stage adaptation powerfully communicates what it's like to have a talent so strong it will out no matter the cost to the artist it holds in its grip.

MY NAME IS ASHER LEV is the story of a young orthodox Jewish boy and his struggle to reconcile his art, his family, and his religion. In Jewish tradition, graven images are forbidden,the province of those unchosen. Imagine the problem then, for Asher Lev a budding young painter: "I am afraid of my eyes and my hands" this very "observant" Jew cries, even as he is driven to drawing his beloved and disapproving parents exactly as he sees and feels them.

On the crest of his success, Asher sits with his father who tries to understand his son and the value of painting "naked women." Asher's explication of the difference between a "naked woman" and a "nude" rendered by an artist is one of the clearest delineations of the artist's role I've ever heard. Lev's dedication to his art as a form of truth-telling, community service, and identity resolution is compelling. That Asher is also drawn to the Crucifixion as an icon in his paintings is a breaking point for the elder Hasid. Lev's relationship as "the only son" pulling away from "the father" is deeply resonant here as a potent symbol of sacrifice and reconciliation.

The set seems lit by candlelight; haunting and original music conjures up Lev's dreams and his parents' anguish. A trinity of actors plays all the parts: Anne Gottlieb moves easily among devoted mother, savvy gallery owner, and earthy nude model; Joel Colodner in his Lyric stage debut, made me look thrice- so varied were his detailed portrayals of father, uncle, and mentor. And then there's the appealing Jason Schuchman who delivered Asher Lev at every age, vibrant, curious, and poignantly torn between his family and his art.
DO NOT MISS "MY NAME IS ASHER LEV" at the Lyric Stage through March 12!

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