My Name Is Asher Lev shows considerable intelligence and honest emotionality

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      Adapted by Aaron Posner from the novel by Chaim Potok. Directed by Morris Ertman. A Pacific Theatre production. At Pacific Theatre on Friday, January 28. Continues until February 26

      The script for My Name Is Asher Lev is a romantic and self-regarding account of what it means to be an artist. But the script also contains considerable intelligence and honest emotionality, which this Pacific Theatre production makes the most of.

      In Aaron Posner’s stage adaptation, as in Chaim Potok’s novel, painter Asher Lev must negotiate the painful conflict between his prodigious talent and the Hasidic Judaism of his Brooklyn community. Asher’s father, Aryeh, suspects that his son’s calling may spring from moral darkness. Rivkeh, Asher’s loving but anxious and depressive mother, is more sympathetic, but she wants Asher to paint birds and flowers, to make the world a prettier place. Fortunately, their religious leader, the Rebbe, intervenes: he sets Asher up with Jacob Kahn, a great—albeit curmudgeonly—artist who becomes Asher’s mentor.

      One thing is absolutely clear in all of this: Asher was a prodigy from the day he was hatched, a genius with ferocious faith in his gift. When he was six, a visiting uncle compared his work to Marc Chagall’s. In the play, no artistically sensitive person can look at one of Asher’s images without being stunned into breathlessness by its beauty. The youngest artist ever to be exhibited in a major Manhattan gallery, Asher receives a rave review in the New York Times, the show sells out, and his works command staggering prices.

      Held up against the real lives of the vast majority of artists, this is the stuff of naive fantasy.

      But it’s not stupid. The story engages some of the real costs of being an artist. As an artist, you draw on your life, and your self-exposure may also expose others—painfully. Asher also comes to a humbling realization: people like his father, whom Asher regards as aesthetically blind, create their own kind of art in the way they live their lives.

      The playwright, as well as this production, presents Asher’s formative relationships with passion and delicacy. Nathan Schmidt plays a number of characters, including Asher’s furiously intelligent father, a rambunctious uncle, and the crusty Kahn. Impressively, Schmidt disappears into these roles. And there is no more transparent actor in town than Katharine Venour. Her portrait of Rivkeh is skinless—and moving. In his Vancouver debut, Giovanni Mocibob, a recent arrival from Alberta, commands the stage as Asher.

      Lauchlin Johnston contributes a simple but ingenious set: a tall window that can turn, angle, and move on tracks—even transforming, at one point, into a table. Sound designer Luke Ertman does an excellent job of supporting the play’s moods with music that’s sometimes mournfully traditional and sometimes seductively sensual. Morris Ertman directs with a sure hand: some of the evening’s loveliest moments involve characters who reach out to touch others—but can’t quite connect.

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      5 Comments

      Not "Transparent" Reviewer

      Feb 1, 2011 at 10:43am

      Oh Colin, your favoritism just makes me giggle now a days. Your ability to just be washed over with a feeling is how to win your review.
      *See Studio 58's review of A Comedy of Errors
      I loved this production, it was captivating and poetic without being preachy and cheesy, and with some of Asher Lev's euphoric monologues that was not an easy feat. So congratulations.
      Aye here is the rub - Colin, colin, colin, I am realizing I need a "Colin" decoder to push past your favoritism, you have a very distinct taste and I can almost always guess your review by who is in it, what the content is and how pretty it looks.
      That's horrible and I am not the only person who thinks this.
      You nit pick on people you don't like and then you praise all your beloved's.
      This production was solid but then you write something like "there is no more transparent actor in town" to
      1. Bait people
      2. Make all the other narcissistic actors feel annoyed
      3. Jab at someone in a past review that wasn't transparent

      Katharin Venour was great but with the group that I went with a friend had said her pet peeve was accents falling in and out. This was happening a lot Colin and the fact you just ignored that is ridiculous. It was distracting because of the consistency in the rest of the cast.
      The more I read your reviews the more I giggle. Keep it up Colin! :)

      9 9Rating: 0

      Frank Worter

      Feb 1, 2011 at 12:16pm

      Some fantastic acting, simple effective set, and just right costumes that allow actors (especially the incredible Schmidt) to move effortlessly between characters.

      Morris Ertman is at his best in the human interactions but occasionally misses as when Asher, inspired to paint his mother in their living room, hangs himself on the easel Christlike in a pose that owes nothing to the woman who supposedly inspired it. There is a link missing here.

      The novel is often billed as exploring the struggle between Art and Religion, unfortunately Potok's story fails when it comes to the crunch, concocting an improbable scenario in which the cowardice of one of the characters (and Potok's desire for controversy) ends up derailing everything.
      Sadly it's not about Art and Religion, but somewhat tiredly about a tongue-tied son.

      Everyones work here is thankfully better than the writer's handling of the subject matter.
      See this production, to see how shafts of gold can be spun even from the oldest straw.

      10 8Rating: +2

      Lucia Frangione

      Feb 13, 2011 at 3:42pm

      Nah. Colin is right. Kath is consistently exquisitely transparent. That is the perfect word for her.

      12 9Rating: +3

      Jeremy

      Feb 18, 2011 at 11:44pm

      C'mon 'Not "Transparent" Reviewer'. Honestly, I haven't seen that many 'rave reviews' coming out of Pacific Theatre over the past few years. So I find it hard to believe that Colin is 'playing favorites' or 'Baiting people', unless you'd believe that he's 'Baiting' you for some reason. Perhaps?

      I do agree, however, that the fading accent was distracting. Other wise, she was flawless.

      Generally, I felt like the play was very loud, even overstated at times, while I found the brilliance of the book to be its somewhat 'hushed' tension. In my view, there is no arguing with the brilliance of Potok's story here. I found the book to be so mentally vivid that seeing any kind of adaptation would be a risk. And as it turns out, the risk was not worth it. Some things deserve to be left alone, and in my opinion, this story should be.

      14 6Rating: +8

      Not "Transparent" Reviewer

      Apr 7, 2011 at 4:02pm

      Jeremy,
      I wasn't making a comment on just Pacific Theatre, I commend that theatre's artistic bravery and success's. I absolutely loved their presentation of "The Last Day's of Judas Iscariot" that was my favorite play in this city in a very long time.
      If you missed my point (apparently you did) I was making a comment on Colin Thomas' ability to be white washed with a feeling over a production or actor.
      I read his review of "August Osage County" and it was ridiculous. He loves chewing productions up with absoloutly no regard for his actions.
      This City does not need a reviewer pushing people away from the theatre. If you don't like something Colin write a review that criticizes it in a way that still invites and promotes people seeing theatre. In no other major Canadian city is a reviewer so arrogant that he thinks he can just behave this way.
      It's embarrassing and shameless.
      Colin you should take a hard look at your role in this city and not just the role of barking, berating and bullying people in your reviews.

      8 7Rating: +1