From The Jazz Singer to Fiddler On The Roof to Yentl and beyond, Jewish drama on the American stage has regularly explored the topic of youthful straying from traditional ways. The newest example to hit Off-Broadway, based on Chaim Potok’s 1972 novel, is Aaron Posner’s My Name Is Asher Lev, a warm and humorous addition to the genre.
The title character, as a man in his twenties, introduces himself to the audience as, “The notorious and legendary Lev, the painter of the Brooklyn Crucifixions.” He is apparently a significant enough artist to have been accused in print of being a traitor, a self-hater and a blasphemer.
Narrating the story of his scandalous career, Asher begins as a twelve-year old Hasidic Jew growing up in 1950s Brooklyn, inspired to draw depictions of Jesus and of nude women after an art museum outing with his mother. Though he’s demonstrated a passion for drawing throughout his childhood, this new choice of subject matter shocks and angers his father. But the Rebbe sees fit to arrange a meeting between him and an established Jewish artist, Jacob Kahn, who sees talent in the young man and agrees to take him on as a protégé.
While Asher’s skills develop, as well as his own voice as an artist, he must regularly defend his choices to his father, but neither he nor his mother is prepared for what they see at the opening of his first show.
The 90-minute play is made up of numerous short scenes and narration with director Gordon Edelstein effectively creating the atmospheres of two very different worlds on Eugene Lee’s unit set.
Ari Brand does a fine job of jumping back and forth through the years to give us a complete picture of a gifted, ambitious boy who grows into a defiant and determined adult.
Posner has all other roles played by one man and one woman. Mark Nelson does an excellent job as Asher’s stern, but fair-minded father and the compassionate Rebbe, but the evening really takes off when he assumes the role of the demanding, but charismatic artist who introduces the boy to a more liberal society than he’s accustomed to.
As Asher’s mother, Jenny Bacon shows the woman’s emotional struggle between the desires of her son and her husband. She has a fine comical turn as an opinionated New York gallery owner and on the evening I attended there were plenty of knowing chuckles as she entered Kahn’s studio wearing a thin robe, the audience anticipating Asher’s reaction in working with his first nude model.
When Asher tries to justify his painting of nudes to his father, who is greatly troubled at what he sees as a disrespectful use of the human body, he explains they are part of an artistic tradition.
“A tradition,” his father begins to ponder. “A tradition I understand.”
Photo of Ari Brand and Mark Nelson by Joan Marcus.
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The grosses are out for the week ending 12/2/2012 and we've got them all right here in BroadwayWorld.com's grosses section.
Up for the week was: DEAD ACCOUNTS (22.6%), GOLDEN BOY (13.8%), THE ANARCHIST (10.4%), SCANDALOUS (4.3%), THE HEIRESS (3.8%), GRACE (3.5%), JERSEY BOYS (3.2%), ROCK OF AGES(3.1%),
Down for the week was: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-28.4%), CHICAGO (-24.4%), MARY POPPINS (-23.3%), MAMMA MIA! (-20.6%), ANNIE (-19.7%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-16.6%), BRING IT ON THE MUSICAL (-14.9%), WICKED (-11.4%), NEWSIES (-11.1%), ELF (-9.5%), PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (-8.0%), THE LION KING (-6.0%), EVITA (-5.2%), ONCE (-5.1%), War Horse (-3.8%), A CHRISTMAS STORY (-3.6%), THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (-3.2%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-2.9%), WHO'S AFRAID OF Virginia Woolf? (-1.2%), CHAPLIN (-0.9%),