THEATER | DANCE | CLASSICAL MUSIC | OPERA | COMEDY

NORTH TEXAS PERFORMING ARTS NEWS

REVIEWS

Sam Swanson in&nbsp;<em>My Name is Asher Lev</em>&nbsp;at Circle Theatre

Review: My Name is Asher Lev | Circle Theatre


Mazel Tough

At Circle Theatre, the regional premiere of Aaron Posner's My Name is Asher Lev is a thoughtful look at two worlds colliding.



published Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Photo: Leah Layman/Circle Theatre
Sam Swanson and David Coffee in My Name is Asher Lev at Circle Theatre

Fort Worth — A father, a mother, a son—and the sound of two worlds colliding.

It’s hard not to hear echoes of other stories—Fiddler on the Roof, Yentl, The Jazz Singer—in Circle Theatre’s thoughtful regional premiere of My Name is Asher Lev, adapted by playwright Aaron Posner from the novel by Chaim Potok (The Chosen). There’s even a quiet soundtrack to the play that sounds a bit like all of them—keening clarinets, singing violins. 

Asher Lev tells of a great painter in the making, a boy with crayons, pencils, paint—and an unstoppable passion to depict the world. It’s a memory play, the artist recalling his mid-century childhood and youth in a devout, activist family of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn. And in this story, the conflict isn’t just between tradition and modernity, conformity and individual will—it’s between an ancient tradition almost devoid of pictorial art (in fact, with an aversion to it) and the tradition of western Art itself. Je suis Asher Lev? One feels immediately protective of the budding artist, and yet....Madonnas and crucifixions, nudes and nihilism—what’s a nice Jewish boy to do with all that?

Photo: Leah Layman/Circle Theatre
Lisa Fairchild and David Coffee in My Name is Asher Lev at Circle Theatre

“Be a great painter, Asher Lev,” the artist’s boyhood mentor tells him. “It is the only justification for the pain you are about to cause.”

Three actors take on all the roles in this packed 90-minute story—quite a workout. Sam Swanson is Asher Lev at every age: a little boy cheering his mother with “pretty” pictures he already knows aren’t true, a growing teen who resists his father’s expectations, a young artist wandering the art-drenched streets of Florence and Paris. David Coffee plays “The Men” in Asher’s life: his brilliant father and uncles, the wise Rebbe—and the crusty artist Jacob Kahn, the non-observant Jew the Rebbe calls into Asher’s life as teacher, counselor, provocateur. Lisa Fairchild plays “The Women”—including Asher’s mother, caught between husband and son, and a Manhattan gallery owner who recognizes his talent. 

Quick changes are effected onstage, with the actors half-visible behind small screens at the back of Clare Floyd DeVries’ bare, ‘50s utilitarian set, which centers on the large wood-framed window of the family’s Brooklyn apartment—a window where his mother stands waiting and worrying, where Asher’s eyes absorb the streets and people who nourish his art.

As in the book, we never see Asher Lev’s art—we take it on faith that he’s a modern art star, the notorious and legendary Lev the whole world knows. And because the art is invisible, the words of this play are, literally, everything. Each of the actors has a feel for the distinctive, slightly antique language of Potok’s characters, and director Harry Parker keeps things high-energy: yes, it’s all talk—no guns drawn, no punches thrown—but this is a battlefield (of words) all the same. 

Among Swanson’s many effective moments is his sensitive depiction of the young Asher’s response to the view out a rainy window—his certainty that “the streets are crying” and he must get that pain on paper. Fairchild has a sweet bluntness as the mother: “You exhaust me,” she says of the struggles between father and son—but she loves and supports both of them, while keeping dreams of her own alive. Coffee’s showiest role is that of the sharp-edged older artist, Jacob, who tells Asher that art is a religion, too, a religion of “goyim and pagans.” Better he should be a baker, says Jacob, who knows what it cost him to live that life—and knows Asher will pay, too. 

It’s a fine production, though Posner’s script—which had a 2012-2013 New York run and took the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play—suffers a bit from the feat of compression it took to get this sprawling story down to an hour-and-a-half of stage time. Not surprisingly, the stage favors the loud and passionate—so we get too much of the father’s thundering anger, and not enough of the quiet, loving family moments (particularly between Asher and his father) that kept the novel in balance. Asher’s art will cost him dearly because he loves his parents, and they love him. If they didn’t care about each other, the stakes wouldn’t be so high. Three warm, heartfelt performances from a great cast, however, do much to compensate for the script’s built-in tonal problem. 

My Name is Asher Lev can be seen as a universal coming-of-age story, but its truest power derives from having its feet planted in a vividly realized culture at a particular time in history. As his parents pour their passion into the work of healing a world broken by war and Holocaust, it’s easy to see where Asher’s own will and passion came from, this driven son of driven parents. 

Are we asked, then, to judge the relative worth of their striving—to choose between the two ways of being in the world? It seems that Posner—following Chaim Potok’s lead—leaves us with more questions than answers. Can this conflict ever be resolved? Does genius trump all, even family love? Is Asher’s art demonic, divine—or a constant search for equilibrium between these extremes? Do today’s artists—much less their public—still feel that passionately about the importance of art and the artistic vision…and if not, how much have we lost? 

Art is not for people who want to make the world holy.

Art is the scream waiting to get out. Thanks For Reading





Dates, Prices, & Other Details

View the Article Slideshow

Comment on this Article

Share this article on Social Media
Click or Swipe to close
Mazel Tough
At Circle Theatre, the regional premiere of Aaron Posner's My Name is Asher Lev is a thoughtful look at two worlds colliding.
by Jan Farrington

Share this article on Facebook
Tweet this article
Share this article on Google+
Share this article via email
Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre Watertower Theatre Breadcrumbs Bocelli American Airlines center Collin Theatre Center John Corigliano at TCU Constellations Theatre Arlington Islamic Art Dallas Opera The Drama Club Cara Mia Lakecities Ballet Theatre
Click or Swipe to close
reviews
views on theater, dance, classical music, opera and comedy performances
news & notes
reports from the local performing arts scene
features & interviews
who and what are moving and shaking in the performing arts scene
season announcements
keep up with the arts groups' upcoming seasons
audiocasts
listen to interviews with people in the local performing arts scene
media reviews
reviews and stories on performing arts-related film, TV, recordings and books
arts organizations
learn more about the local producing and presenting arts groups
performance venues
learn more about the theaters and spaces where the arts happen
contests
keep up with fabulous ticket giveaways and other promotions
crowdfunding
connect to local arts crowdfunding campaigns
studio
post or view auditions and performing arts-related classes, services, jobs and more
about us
info on TheaterJones, our staff, what we do and how to contact us
Click or Swipe to close
First Name:
Last Name:
Date of Birth:
ZIP Code:
Your Email Address:
Click or Swipe to close
Join TheaterJones Around the Web



Follow Us on Twitter

Subscribe to our Youtube Channel

Click or Swipe to close
Search the TheaterJones Archives
Use any or all of the options below to search through all of reviews, interviews, features and special sections. If you are looking for a an event, use the calendar section of this website. This search will not search through the calendar.
Article Title Search:


Description Search:
TheaterJones Contributor:


TheaterJones Section:


Category:
Showing on or after:      Showing on or before:  
Search
Click or Swipe to close
We welcome your comments

I am discussing:  



Your Name:
Your Email Adress:


please enter the text below and then click or tap SUBMIT :
Submit