Artvoice: Buffalo's #1 Newsweekly
Home Blogs Web Features Calendar Listings Artvoice TV Real Estate Classifieds Contact
Previous story: A BPO Premiere at Canisius and the UB Symphony opens its season
Next story: On The Boards Theater Listings

Aaron Posner's play performed by Jewish Repertory Theatre

My Name is Asher Lev
Aaron Posner's play performed by Jewish Repertory Theatre

Rare is the person who did not, in the process of crossing into adulthood, assert his or her individuality in a way that upset the parents. In Aaron Posner’s elegantly moving play, My Name is Asher Lev, based on the novel by Chaim Potok, this scenario is exacerbated by setting the coming of age in the context of a Hassidic Jewish family, and by using artistic talent as a metaphor for individual rebellion.

Young Asher Lev is not interested in religious study. Instead, he yearns to be a great artist. To make matters worse, his passion draws him to figures of nudes and dramatic depictions of crucifixions at the Brooklyn museum near his home.

The divide between traditional Hassidic Judaism and the freewheeling art world of Manhattan is very wide, indeed.

The Jewish Repertory Theatre production of this play, under the direction of Saul Elkin is economical and emotionally absorbing. Adam Yellen stars as Asher Lev. The short play is constructed episodically and played without intermission. Yellen portrays Asher in adulthood, as a little boy and everywhere in between. It is a very steady and commanding performance, and provides the pivot around which the rest of the production can revolve.

Josie DiVincenzo and Tom Zindle portray all of the men and women in Asher’s world, most notably his very traditional parents. The device is a clever lure, tacitly inviting members of the audience to recall, through analogy, authorities from their own lives and upbringing. At the play’s conclusion, with audience members teary-eyed all around me, I found myself wondering just what individual experiences were facilitating such potent identification with this story.

In addition to the steady and astute performance by Yellen, this process of emotional bonding is assisted by three wonderfully layered and compelling performances from DiVincenzo, and Zindle who work miracles of characterization, exiting the stage as one character, only to return moments later as another.

DiVincenzo plays Asher’s mother, Rivkeh, a woman who has lost a great deal but who summons her strength in an effort to bridge the painful division between her husband and her son. She also appears as a stylish and worldly gallery owner, and as a nude model.

Zindle appears as Asher’s austere father, as the Rebbe who employs him and serves as the spiritual guide of the family, as the uncle who encourages the young boy, and as the artist who teaches him.

These fabulous transformations are assisted with costumes by Kari Drozd that communicate character exquisitely. The set by Nathan Elsener provides a fluid space through which the play’s episodes can fly unobstructed. Brian Cavanaugh has designed the lighting, and Tom Makar has done the sound design. I did wish the lighting of the wall of windows in the family home could better emphasize the isolation of Asher’s parents from the world outside, but the door of the set itself serves as a kind of portal through which Rivkeh perpetually prays that her husband will leave in health and return in health. Before this emotional evening is over, we wish that she could have asked for a little bit more.

This handsome production continues through November 15th at The Maxine and Robert Seller Theatre, in the Jewish Community Center at 2640 North Forest Road in Getzville