MY NAME IS ASHER LEV A POWERFUL OPENING FOR MTC’S 2009–10 SEASON
Coinciding with the advent of Rosh Hashanah, the Marin Theatre Company (MTC) and TheatreWorks have elected to produce Aaron Posner’s adaptations from the pen of the famed Jewish writer Chaim Potok. Potok is best known for his 1969 novel The Chosen that he and Aaron Posner adapted into a successful play produced at Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre in 1999. Both The Chosen and My Name is Asher Lev deal with conflict between secular and Hassidic religious life and told in a first person mode by the major character.
In this play, Ash Lev is that major character played by Peter Stadlen who gives an intense and disciplined performance as he moves back and forth from monolog to dramatic interaction with the other characters. The other characters are listed as “Woman” (Danielle Levin) and “Man” (Patrick McNulty) who play multiple parts starting as Ash’s parents.
Asher Lev introduces himself as a Hassidic Jew who keeps kosher and prays three times a day. He tells his story in flashbacks starting at the age of four when he discovers his innate love of and an ability to draw that eventually places him in conflict with his father and religion. Drawing and creating art becomes a compulsion that furthers the schism. As he grows up the ability to create art blossoms and those around him, recognize the talent. At age 13 he is befriended by a noted Jewish painter and sculptor who has semi-abandoned his religion and offers to be his mentor for five years. Under this relationship, he gains artistic recognition and financial independence further alienating his parents especially with his “Jewish Crucifixion” depicting his parents on the cross. . . a Holy sacrilege.
Patrick McNulty performs all adult male roles and delivers inspired performance as the unyielding Orthodox Jewish father. His change from father to artist/mentor Jacob Kahn is exceptional. Danielle Levin in the role of "Woman" under goes a remarkable transformation from mother, to flamboyant art dealer and as Asher’s nude model. As good as they are, it is Peter Standlen’s brilliant production that creates this must see show.
Director Hal Brooks’ precise direction keeps the mixture of monolog and character interaction flowing as we learn the history and emotional conflict without missing a beat. He makes the tension palpable interjecting just the right amount of humor to give added depth to Posner’s brilliant selection of dialog.
Melpomene Katakalos’s set is a marvel of simplicity with a huge wooden Star Of David suspended at a 60 degree angle above the stage with only three chairs and a table on the bare wooden floor. York Kennedy’s lighting design adds immeasurably to proceedings. The directorial conceit to represent the “art” as blank sheets of white paper and empty projections is a brilliant move.