My Name is Asher Lev
Also see David's review of Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
At what point might a child start showing skills that could turn into his life's work? Second, should a man give up his life's work to follow the goals of his parents? These questions are at the core of My Name is Asher Lev, which is now playing in the Cleveland Play House..
As the play progresses, the audience watches Asher Lev as a child, a young adult, and as a man wrestling with the questions of combining his life's work, his religious upbringing and his devotion to his parents.
The novel "My Name is Asher Lev" was written by Chaim Potok (1929-2002). Potok, an intellectual rabbi and a writer, is best known for his novel "The Chosen" (1967). Aaron Posner adapted both novels to the stage.
Antje Ellerman (scenic designer) has created a simple, plain set on a thrust stage. This simplicity may be symbolic of the life of the Jew in the United States at the end of World War II.
The story takes place in a strict Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York. Asher Lev's parents are socially committed to their religion. Their son is an artist from the time, within the story, that he was six years old. His desire to be an artist is at odds with his parents' commitment to their religion. This battle within Asher becomes all the greater when his rabbi introduces him to a well-known artist who provides art lessons and opportunities to meet gallery owners.
I'm intrigued by a father who is so committed to his religious career that he will not permit his son to be equally committed to his career as an artist.
Each of the scenes begins with Asher Lev explaining his age and providing a minimum of background. So, the audience is able to watch the character live a scene at one age and, then, be younger or older. This technique works and is complemented by the stylized set.
Noel Joseph Allain (Asher Lev) makes his character properly weak to complement the domineering father, played by Tom Alan Robbins. Robbins, also, plays all of the other male roles: Aryeh Lev, Uncle Yitzchok, Rebbe, and Jacob Kahn. Elizabeth Raetz plays Rivkeh Lev, Asher's mother. In addition, she plays Anna Schaeffer, Rachel, and the nude model in Asher's drawing class. Though the script works well with two actors playing all of the supporting roles, I wonder if the production might be stronger with each character played by a different actor. In this production the women are separated by radically different styles of clothing and wigs. However, the men, as played, are too similar in character to be performed by one actor.
The main problem with the production is the direction by Laura Kepley, associate artistic director of the Cleveland Play House. Kepley paces the performance so slowly that the 90 minutes running time, without intermission, seems to be several hours. Unfortunately, the pacing makes the serious topics of the script seem ponderous and not as significant as the hardness of the seats in the Baxter Stage.
The show continues on the Baxter Stage, Cleveland Play House, Cleveland, through April 3, 1011. For ticket and performance information, call 216-795-7000, ext. 4 or visit www.clevelandplayhouse.com. The final show of the season is Legacy of Light (April 8 - May 1, 2011).
The Baxter Stage
- David Ritchey