The heartbreak of being true to yourself, while hurting those who love you, is the theme of this deeply moving play, sensitively adapted by Aaron Posner from Chaim Potok’s 1972 novel. Asher is an artist who cannot make pretty pictures to please his family, but must express the pain and rage he feels. They are Hasidic Jews in 1950’s Brooklyn, and are confounded by their sons need to express his life through drawing and painting. His father views the work as pornographic and sacrilegious, while his dutiful mother is secretly admiring of her only son’s gift.
Asher observes the suffering his mother has to bear, imprisoned by a strict and unforgiving culture, especially as she struggles to keep peace between the warring men in her life. Ironically, this leads to Asher’s masterpiece, Brooklyn Crucifixion, a painting of his mother that brings him international recognition.
As Asher’s famous artist mentor says, “Be a great painter, Asher Lev. It is the only justification for all the pain you are about to cause.” The moment when his parents step up and view this work, that seems to mock their very existence, shows the lifelong battle between truth and tradition.
Stephen Sachs directs with a simplicity that underscores depths of emotion. Heading the brilliant cast, Jason Karasev, as Asher, bravely journeys into an unknown world. Anna Khaja portrays his fragile mother, then reappears as a shrewd and dynamic art dealer. Best of all is Joel Polis as his rigid father, who persuasively transforms into a genial uncle, to an autocratic rabbi, and even Asher’s bohemian non-religious mentor.
Produced by Deborah Lawlor and Simon Levy, with Jeffrey R. McLaughlin (set); Ric Zimmerman (lighting); Lindsay Jones (sound), Shon LeBlanc (costumes).
Now playing at the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., LA, through May 18. For tickets: (323) 663-1525 or www.fountaintheatre.com.
Reviewed in the April issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.