My Name Is Asher Lev
Aaron Posner's distillation of the novel by Chaim Potok maintains a tight focus on the journey of the title character. Asher Lev (Alexander Strain) is already onstage as the audience enters, working on a large canvas; the play uses a flashback structure to show how he must balance the demands of his Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn with his inborn need to draw and paint.
Matters first come to a head when Asher discovers his awe of works of art that seem incompatible with his life as a "Torah Jew," specifically, depictions of the crucifixion of Jesus and paintings of nudes instead of the "pretty birds and flowers" his mother would prefer. When he tells his father he can't control the direction of his artistic drive, his father replies, "There is no such thing as a man who can't help himself"a comment with reverberations far beyond the immediate situation.
Strain is an intensely physical actor who fully inhabits the role, depicting internal struggle through action as well as facial expressions and vocal tone. Adam Heller and Lise Bruneau ably play all the other characters: Heller ranging from the august Rebbe and Asher's stern father to Jacob Kahn, the Jewish artist who becomes Asher's mentor in "a religion called painting"; Bruneau mostly in a nuanced, deeply moving turn as Asher's gentle mother, forced to deal with matters she never expected.
Director Jeremy Skidmore demonstrates his understanding of the material by presenting it as a painter might, judiciously incorporating brightness and shadow in appropriate portions. Tony Cisek's scenic design and Ren LaDassor's costumes are understated and appropriate, but lighting designer Dan Covey adds interest through shafts of light in pale colors.
Round House Theatre