Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
In Dawn Loveland's well-directed production, the play is essentially a coming of age story exploring the differences and the similarities between the two boys, and the things that both bring them together and drive them apart. The fathers of the two young men are superbly portrayed by Damian Buzzerio and Dan Shor. Jewish history and religion play a huge part in the story, but at the heart of this touching show are themes that ultimately prove to be universal. This Playhouse on Park production should appeal to just about everyone.
What's so exceptional about The Chosen is the friendship between the two boys and how it develops, sometimes in unexpected ways. They meet after a baseball game accident and slowly form a bond that transcends the differences in their religious backgrounds. Danny Saunders, played by Joshua Whitson, has a strict father who is Hasidic, while Reuven Malter, played by Jordan Wolfe, has a father who is an orthodox Jew. It is established early on that Danny's father Reb Saunders does not truly approve of Danny's friendship with Reuven (based somewhat on Reuven's father's beliefs), but the two are allowed to be friends. It is due to the acting talent of these two young men that the relationship of the boys feels so special. As Reuven, Jordan Wolfe is quite charming and funny, while Joshua Whitson as Danny is a bit more uptight, but he is extremely skillful at displaying various emotions all at the same time.
As the two fathers, Damian Buzzerio and Dan Shor are equally good. Dan Shor is sympathetic and jovial as David Malter, while Damian Buzzerio (who did such wonderful work in Playhouse on Park's production of Proof) is much more buttoned up as Reb Saunders, but he brings a lot of unexpected heart to the character who, ultimately, is a great deal more open-minded than he at first seems. There is one additional actor, the likable and authoritative David Gautschy, who plays the character of Reuven as an adult, looking back at his childhood, and also acts as a narrator of sorts throughout the production. I would hate to give away any more of the plot details, since it is so pleasurable to experience the various surprises in the second act that make this play so irresistible.
This production is blessed with a wonderful director in Dawn Loveland; she truly brings out the best in all her actors, as well as her designers. Christopher Hoyt's attractive scenic design is just about ideal and Kate Bunce's costuming is scrupulous for all the characters, especially the outfits for Danny Saunders and his Hasidic father.
Nearly everything about Playhouse on Park's staging of The Chosen feels exactly right, and it is one of the most enjoyable evenings of theater that I've had lately. By making the story so specific and individualized, writers Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok render the feelings and emotions as almost universal in their appeal. This is a story one can genuinely root for, and the show is also almost certain to bring a smile to one's face.
The Chosen continues performances at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT through February 14th, 2016. For tickets, please visit www.playhouseonpark.org or call the box office at 860-523-5900.