Feature Stories

When passions collide: “My Name Is Asher Lev” takes the stage in N. Haven

By Cindy Mindell ~

NEW HAVEN – “My Name is Asher Lev” concludes the 2011-12 season at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven. Adapted by Aaron Posner from Chaim Potok’s 1972 novel, and directed by Long Wharf Theatre artistic director, Gordon Edelstein, the play will run from May 2-27 on the Mainstage.
The story follows Asher Lev, a young man growing up in a Brooklyn Hasidic community in the ‘50s, whose love of painting comes into conflict with his deeply observant family and community.

Ari Brand

“I was looking for a play with gravitas, high literary content, and seriousness of purpose,” says Edelstein. “‘My Name Is Asher Lev’ is a beautiful story that talks about owning what happens when the desire to express yourself comes into conflict with your community’s values. It’s a story that’s compelling for any Jewish artist. The play asks timeless questions about community, God, family and artistic talent.”
Edelstein had planned to stage the world premiere of “Sophie’s Choice,” but the book is challenging to adapt, he says, and the script was not ready in time. He has worked in the past with Posner, who also adapted Potok’s “The Chosen” for the stage.
“My Name Is Asher Lev” was unveiled in a 2009 world premiere by the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia, Potok’s home town. Potok’s widow, Adena, served as artistic consultant; since its debut, the play has been produced throughout the country.
The Long Wharf production features Ari Brand, 28, who plays Asher Lev as a child growing up in Brooklyn. “It’s a challenging part because there’s a high intensity to it,” says Brand, who made his Broadway debut in “The Neil Simon Plays,” and played the role of Peter van Daan in the 2010 Westport Country Playhouse production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” “The conflict is so great with Asher’s family and his people, and he has a fire that’s desperately trying to get out that he can’t control. The story speaks to anybody who has a passion for something but isn’t able to communicate it because of where he or she is in life.”
Brand draws on life experience to inform his role. His father, internationally acclaimed Israeli concert pianist Natan Brand, died in 1990 at age 46. “‘Asher Lev’ is very much a story about Asher’s mother and her strengths and journey – having dealt with the loss of her own family and dealing with the strife that Asher causes as a pariah in the community,” Brand says. “My mother raised me mostly on her own and she certainly had to deal with plenty of problems while I was growing up. She went back to school and worked at the same time and I have used that emotionally to get to certain places in the role. My mother is my inspiration for anything that requires bravery and perseverance.”
To prepare the cast, Edelstein arranged a tour of the Crown Heights Hasidic community, led by a Lubavitcher rabbi, and a discussion with a member of the New Haven Chabad community.
“In some plays, cultural context is not as important as in others, but in this one it is,” Edelstein says. “The more I could have us all marinate in that context, the richer the show would be.”
Edelstein says that the play will appeal to different audiences for different reasons. “I do think that this will really relate in a significant way to the Jewish community,” he says. “And it will be fascinating, from a cultural perspective, to the non-Jewish community.” It would be something that appealed to Chaim Potok as well, Edelstein believes. “This is a faithful adaptation that captures the idea of the novel,” he says.

For more information: www.longwharf.org / (203) 787-4282.

Comments? Email cindym@jewishledger.com.

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