Adapted from the novel by Chaim Potok
Directed by Kimberly Senior
Produced by TimeLine Theatre Company
At Stage 773, Chicago
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.” – a Jewish Commandment
Family, beliefs, and the struggle to find oneself clash as traditions of religion and art collide for the soul of a gifted boy
TimeLine Theatre continues to mount outstanding works and their latest, My Name is Asher Lev by Aaron Posner adapted from Chaim Potok’s novel, continues that rich tradition. From Brian Sidney Bembridge’s two-level set to the trio of musicians deftly adding Klezmer-styled music by Andrew Hansen played by Adam DeGroot on clarinet, Merrick Jones on cello and Elena Spiegel on violin. Every element in this tight swift 90 minute one act is superbly presented.
My Name is Asher Lev is a memory play narrated by Asher Lev as he takes us through his life from a little boy (in the 1950’s) who loves to draw to a world-class artist. Alex Weisman as Asher Lev, is doing his finest performance to date. His Asher who is torn between his Hasidic upbringing and his desperate need to fulfill his urges to realize his artistic promise. Being raised in the strict religious Jewish tradition where honoring one’s father and observing strict Talmud rules dominates especially when your father is an aid to the Rebbe (leader of the Lubavitcher Hasidic sect). From his early artistic urges, Asher realizes that his religion and his artistic bent conflict at their core. Asher’s father (Lawrence Grimm) calls drawing “foolishness.” Asher’s mother (Danica Monroe) seeing both sides but she remains a loyal obedient wife.
When the Rebbe (also played by Grimm) realizes Asher’s talent, he arranges for the thirteen year old to work with the famed Jewish artist Jacob Kahn (Grimm). Kahn tells Asher: “Paint they way you feel, don’t lie.” Kahn over the years tells Asher that their has never been a great Jewish artist who was also a religious Jew. As Asher develops his craft, his passion for seeing the world through an artist’s eyes conflicts with his conservative beliefs. This threatens to destroy his relationship with his family and his Hasidic beliefs.
The themes of conflicting traditions, suffering, beauty and self-identity are explored quite dramatically. Lawrence Grim effectively moves from the father to the Rebbe to the stern mentor Jacob Kahn while Danica Monroe plays the women. What holds our interest is the empathetic honest performance by Alex Weisman. He neatly underplays Asher’s passion while releasing that passion emotionally when it explodes to the surface. Weisman delivers a fabulous performance as the conflicted artist. He is in award territory here.
With sprinkles of Yiddish terms (see the program guide), we learn about the Hesidic traditions. In Jacob Kahn’s lessons on the nature of artistic expression, we learn the essence of true art. “Being a great artist is the only justification for all the pain you are about to cause,” is Kahn’s warning to Asher who, indeed, does create a masterpiece that pains his family.
My Name Is Asher Lev is one of the finest plays of 2014. It is a “must see” drama that will grab you and hold you throughout.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: August 30, 2014
For more info checkout the My Name Is Asher Lev page at theatreinchicago.com
At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL, call 773-327-5252, www.timelinetheatre.com, tickets $ 37 – $47 – $50, Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission, through October 18, 2014