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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

My Name is Asher Lev
Long Wharf Theatre

Also see Fred's review of Mame

My Name is Asher Lev
Mark Nelson
Long Wharf Theatre's presentation of My Name is Asher Lev, which continues through May 27th, is beautifully delineated and constructed: this is a tightly knit 90-minute piece which is thematically rewarding and quite relevant. Three actors demonstrate poise and discipline while bringing fervor when necessary.

A memory play told through flashbacks, it remains the story of a young man who is an orthodox Hasidic Jew—an individual who first demonstrated prodigal artistic ability at the age of six. Asher Lev (Ari Brand) is caught, since he must honor his gift yet feels deeply for both his parents and religion. The heightening tension is evident from nearly the moment the performance begins.

Aaron Posner, adapting from the novel by Chaim Potok, provides the detailed script. Asher's father Aryeh (Mark Nelson) is dedicated to Judaism and, more specifically, the Rebbe whom Aryeh serves. Aryeh and Asher, within the confines of a late 1950s drab, dreary Brooklyn apartment (impeccably designed by Eugene Lee) are often grappling and struggling. Caught in between is Rivkeh (Melissa Miller), dedicated, really, to both her husband and son.

Eventually, Aryeh goes to Vienna to further assist the Rebbe. Jacob Kahn, the artist and sculptor, influences Asher. Kahn, by the way, is played by Mark Nelson, superb in multiple roles. One moment Nelson is rigid and strict (as the father), but, as Kahn, he is the caring, instructive mentor. Miller, too, takes on more than one character, including a model, and is versatile and affecting.

Brand sits precisely within Asher's skin, a young person beset by his dilemma. Within the context of the play, he also furnishes narrative which serves to draw together the strands of the plot. Much of the story revolves around Asher's propensity to paint nudes and, ultimately, his masterwork called "Brooklyn Crucifixion."

Gordon Edelstein, directing, deserves a serious and affirmative nod. The play is one of both delicacy and strength. Emotion permeates throughout. Precision is required and Edelstein's actors are exact. Asher Lev wishes to hurt no one but he must actualize his talent and, moreover, fulfill his passion. He hasn't an option even if he repeatedly recognizes his connection to his faith.

This, then, is a script including more than one tension. Clearly, religion versus art permeates. There is, too, the father and son conflict as Nelson's Aryeh is verbally demonstrative early on. The Long Wharf production is very much controlled but that should not be construed as lacking in spirit. The implications of the play build and grow upon the observer. The performance is over and one begins to ponder.

The three actors furnish deep-rooted performances based upon understanding of the individual characters and the trying relationships. Brand plays an Asher Lev who must cope with oppositional forces. Miller's Rivkeh embraces her son—but that is not all. Nelson's obligations are varied. In addition to characters previously mentioned, he is also Yitzchok, Asher's uncle who supported the young man early on.

The word wooden applies only to almost everything literally on stage: flooring, table, chairs, easels ... otherwise, this is a production which breathes through its humanity.

My Name is Asher Lev continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven through May 27th. For tickets, call (203) 787-4282 or visit www.longwharf.org.


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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