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My Name is Asher Lev
American Stage Theater Company


Georgina McKee, Chris Crawford and
Brian Webb Russell

When an explosive thought-provoking play is presented in a brilliantly acted production, sparks can be expected to fly. And indeed they do in American Stage's production of My Name is Asher Lev, by Aaron Posner, adapted from a novel by Chaim Potok. The play, an Off-Broadway hit since November 2012, is a rich examination of the tapestry of father son relationships with a strong Jewish sensibility, although the themes are universal. Coming off seeing several acclaimed new plays which I found lacking in emotional honesty, it is a pleasure to encounter one that offers so much insight. I would very much like to see it again because there is so much in this brilliant script worth revisiting.

The acting, some of the strongest I have ever seen on American Stage's boards, brought me to my feet at the end. Played by Chris Crawford (completely hilarious in last year's The Foreigner), Asher is the strong dominant center of the production. He takes us on a journey from 6-year-old to world acclaimed artist. The only thing missing in this performance is a strong Jewishness, central to the character.

So often when actors play multiple supporting roles in a production, none of the characters is well delineated. This is untrue of the brilliant performances of Brian Webb Russell as Asher's father, his mentor Jacob Kahn, and two smaller roles; and Georgina McKee as Asher's mother and Anna Schaeffer, an art gallery proprietor. Brian Webb Russell provides the strong core of Jewishness that I would have liked to have seen in Mr. Crawford, dominant to the being of the father and pushed aside for the mentor. Ms. McKee provides the single most piercing moment in the show, a primal scream in reaction to a tragic event in her life that went straight up my spine. She also anchors the Jewish center of the mother and then inhabits her other role so completely that I could have believed it was an entirely different actress if the program had told me so.

Great performances do not come out of thin air; so much credit must go to Director T. Scott Wooten. He also offers a strong sense of time and place. The setting includes a sunken area, used exclusively for the art world Asher Lev later inhabits, while the world of his parents and his Jewish community is played on the outer edges of the stage. A strong feeling of what differentiates a Chassidic Jewish community from that of any other community made this play extra personal to this observant Reform Jew.

All of the technical aspects of the production—scenic design/property design by Jerid Fox, lighting design by Megan Byrne (especially a late sequence in which light design conveys the color tapestry being described by Asher) and costume design by Adrin Erra Puente contribute positively to make this a theatrical experience not to be missed.

American Stage Theater Company presents My Name is Asher Lev through August 25, 2013, at the Raymond James Theatre, 163 3rd Street North in St. Petersburg. For ticket and performance information, visit americanstage.org.

Cast (in order of appearance)
Asher Lev: Chris Crawford*
The Men (Aryeh Lev, Yitzchok Lev, The Rebbe and Jacob Kahn): Brian Webb Russell*
The Women(Rivkeh Lev, Anna Schaeffer, Rachel): Georgina McKee
* denotes member of Actors' Equity

Direction/Sound Design: T. Scott Wooten
Scenic Design, Property Design, Set Dressing: Jerid Fox
Lighting Design: Megan Byrne
Costume Design: Adrin Erra Puente
Production Stage Manager: Karla Hartley


Photo: Chad Jacobs/American Stage Theater

--William S. Oser



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