Timeline’s “My Name is Asher Lev” – A Hasidic-born Artist’s Story

 

“My Name is Asher Lev” from Timeline Theatre tells the story of the title character coming of age in a Hasidic world where his talent and drive to make art are at odds with a devout religious life.

 

 

There are only three actors in this production, each quite able:  Alex Weisman, who plays the title character; Larry Grimm who plays all male characters from scolding father, to unreachable rabbi, elder famed artist, and uncle; and Danica Monroe who is Asher Lev’s mother, an art dealer, and a nude artist's model.  Monroe in particular is so convincing in her switch from character to character that you may find yourself checking the program notes to confirm it is but one actress in all roles.  Unfortunately Larry Grimm seems somewhat handicapped in his performance by poorly attached mustaches and beards, distracting your attention away from his craft. 

 

The three actors are accompanied onstage by three musicians – Adam DeGroot (clarinet), Merrick Jones (cello) and Elena Spiegel (violin).   The music by composer Andrew Hansen at times draws upon wailing Klezmer sounds and at others simply adds exclamation marks to scenes.  While Weisman as Asher Lev rarely lets your attention wander to the musicians, their presence on the stage is felt nonetheless and is inspired.   The set design allows the musicians to remain to the side and in view, but overall the stark set does not enchant as the music does, and this could be somewhat of a deterrence to making this production transporting.

 

 

This is a story based on the novel by Chaim Potok, perhaps drawing from the author’s own struggle to live an authentic artistic life while coming to terms with his strict religious origins.   A theme that recurs is whether the artist’s gift comes from the Creator or is part of the dark side that must be fought. 

 

 

 

The triangle of dueling father and son with mother trying to moderate in the middle is central to the story and its climax and one that transcends the trappings of a Hasidic tale per se.

 

 

There may be an inherent difficulty in trying to capture a novel spanning many years of a boy to man’s life that playwright Aaron Posner has taken on. 

 

 

While there is nothing lacking in Weisman’s performance, the script relies on much expository recounting of events, with moments cherry picked for dramatization. 

 

 

It is this heavy emphasis on the central character’s expository narration that perhaps makes the tale less than truly gripping.   We seem to see events without much dramatic impact that are establishing reference points acted out but also missing the dramatization of key events that are instead re-told by the main character.

 

 

That said, this is a production worth seeing and especially for those who have an interest in the subject matter of religious vs. secular and/or the drive to make art.  True to its mission, Timeline gives us a story where an important historic backdrop –in this case Jews rebuilding after the Holocaust --feeds the story line. 

 

This production run is until October 18, 2014 and is performed in the 773 Stage space at 1225 West Belmont, Chicago.

 

For tickets and information call the Stage 773 Box Office at 773 327 5252 or visit the Timeline Theatre website

 

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Photos by Lara Goetsch

 

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