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Monday, 11 October 2010 01:00

Asher Lev's leap to stage falls short

Written by Bob Wilcox
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Asher Lev's leap to stage falls short
John Lamb/newjewishtheatre.org

My Name Is Asher Lev has been adapted for the stage by Aaron Posner from the novel of the same name by Chaim Potok. But it hasn't been adapted enough.

The novel and play tell the story of Asher Lev, a child of a Hassidic family in Brooklyn who has been blessed with extraordinary artistic talent. In the way of such stories, Asher's gift leads to estrangement from his parents, especially his father, who has difficulty discovering a place in Orthodox Jewish life for a painter and his paintings, especially when they depict nudes and crucifixions. It's a familiar story, given local color by its Hassidic setting, with some interesting explorations of the meanings of art and of the calling of an artist.

But too much of what we see at the New Jewish Theatre still comes to us as narration, interspersed with occasional dramatic scenes of Asher with his mother and father and with the painter who tutors him.

Both the narration and the scenes, under Deanna Jent's direction, are extremely well done. Robert Thibaut clearly and sensitively recites the incidents in Asher's life and his inner struggles. In the dramatic scenes, Thibaut amazingly and quite convincingly plays Asher from young child to young man.

Terry Meddows always impresses, here as several distinctly drawn characters, especially Asher's father and Asher's mentor. Lee Anne Mathews also plays several characters, of which Asher's mother is the most fully and sympathetically drawn.

All three actors do lovely work. Dunsi Dai has given them a flexible setting for the play's many scenes, clarified by Glenn Dunn's lighting, and Michele Friedman Siler's costumes allow for quick, distinguishing variations for the various characters. Supportive sound design is by Michael Perkins. But playwright Posner has not quite turned Potok's novel into a play.

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