Tag Archives: Hasidic

Fountain opens 2018 season with newly revised stage version of Chaim Potok’s ‘The Chosen’

THE CHOSEN 5

The cast of ‘The Chosen’ in rehearsal.

Friendship, faith and fatherhood. Jonathan ArkinAlan BlumenfeldDor Gvirtsman and Sam Mandel star in The Chosen, the award-winning stage adaptation by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok of Potok’s beloved novel. Simon Levy directs for a January 20 opening at the Fountain Theatre, where performances continue through March 25. The Fountain celebrates the novel’s 50th anniversary (last April) with the West Coast premiere of Posner’s new, streamlined version.

Set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn against the backdrop of World War II, the revelation of the Holocaust and the desperate struggle of Zionism, The Chosen is a moving coming-of-age story about two observant Jewish boys who live only five blocks, yet seemingly worlds, apart. When Danny, son of an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic tzaddik, injures the more traditionally Orthodox Reuven during a baseball game between their rival yeshivas, their two universes collide and a unique friendship is born.

“This powerful story shows how essential it is to consider the views of those who are different from us,” says Levy. “It’s an antidote to the toxicity of our times. Potok beautifully depicts what it means to bridge chasms — between modernity and tradition, the secular and the sacred, Zionism and Hasidism, adolescence and adulthood, friendship and family, fathers and sons, the head and the heart, and the struggle to choose for ourselves, to fight for what we believe in and who we want to be.”

According to Posner, “Through the story of two remarkable boys and their remarkable fathers, Potok asks us to contemplate a world where we chose to fill our lives with greater meaning… and where complexity, understanding, compassion and reconciliation are among our highest values.”

In 1967, Potok burst upon the literary scene with The Chosen, his first novel, sometimes referred to as a “Jewish Catcher in the Rye.” A best-seller, it was nominated for the National Book Award and through the years has become a must-read both in and out of the classroom. In 1992, in celebration of its 25th anniversary, it was republished as a young reader’s classic. A film starring Rod Steiger was released in 1981, and a short-lived off-Broadway musical debuted in 1988. Before his death in 2002, Potok collaborated with Posner on the stage version, which debuted in 1999 at the Arden Theater in Philadelphia, where Posner was a co-founder and resident director. Now, nearly 20 years later, Posner has rewritten the script to create a new version, which premiered last month at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT.

In an interview with the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, Posner explained that he has made a number of changes to the script. “I think it’s now a more dynamic, more streamlined play,” he said. “I’m really very excited about this new version. I think it’s going to be stronger in every way. I love the old version, too but I’m hoping this is even better.”

The creative team for The Chosen includes scenic and props designer DeAnne Millais, lighting designer Donny Jackson, video designer Yee Eun Nam; composer and sound designer Peter Bayne, costume designer Michele Young, hair and makeup designer Linda Michaels and dialect coach Andrea CabanRabbi Jim  Kaufmanconsults. The production stage manager is Miranda Stewart; technical director is Scott Tuomey; associate producer is James Bennett; and Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor produce for the Fountain Theatre.

The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won over 225 awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include being honored for its acclaimed 25th Anniversary Season in 2015 by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council; the inclusion of the Fountain’s Citizen: An American Lyric in Center Theatre Group’s Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. The Fountain’s most recent production, the world premiere of Building the Wall by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, ran for five months and was named “L.A. hottest ticket” by the Los Angeles Times.

Get Tickets

Smash Hit ‘My Name Is Asher Lev’ Extends to May 18 at the Fountain Theatre

Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja and Joel Polis in 'My Name Is Asher Lev'.

Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja and Joel Polis in ‘My Name Is Asher Lev’.

The Fountain Theatre will extend its critically acclaimed Los Angeles premiere of My Name is Asher Lev through May 18.

Designated a “Critic’s Choice” by the Los Angeles Times and “a moving and rich experience” by the Hollywood Reporter, the Fountain’s production of Aaron Posner’s award-winning stage adaptation of Chaim Potok’s novel continues to receive rave reviews in the press and enjoy sold out houses.

“Eloquent … The play resonates with double-edged truths … striking visual and emotional strokes … it unfolds in achingly personal terms,” writes the Times, while the Hollywood Reporter commends “a peerless realization by a splendid cast.” The Santa Monica Daily Press raves, “Just-about-perfect… [a] stellar presentation bound to resonate with everyone,” and BroadwayWorld calls the Fountain production “extraordinary.”

Directed by Stephen Sachs and starring Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja and Joel Polis, My Name Is Asher Lev is the powerful story of a young Jewish painter and his struggle to become an artist at any cost – even against the will of his parents and the traditions of his ultra-orthodox Hasidic community. Exploring questions of art, family, religion and loyalty, this extraordinary adaptation is a compelling look at the cost of individuality.

My Name Is Asher Lev Extended to May 18 (323) 663-1525  MORE

‘My Name Is Asher Lev’ at the Fountain Theatre is “an unforgettable experience. Don’t miss it.”

Joel Polis and Jason Karasev

Joel Polis and Jason Karasev

Thought-provoking, unpredictable and wholly magnificent

by David C. Nichols

Saw My Name is Asher Lev last night. Will likely be thinking about it for quite some time to come. The Fountain Theatre continues its ongoing roll with this potent three-hander based on Chaim Potok’s best seller about an Orthodox Jew in post-WWII Brooklyn torn between Hasidic tradition and his nascent artistic gifts. That last aspect typifies the production, which is, even by this venue’s high standards, thought-provoking, unpredictable and wholly magnificent. 

Stephen Sachs has done meaningful direction before, and often. Yet the emotional acuity, transitional clarity and specificity of detail he mines from Aaron Posner’s affecting adaptation is at an elevated level from anything previous seen. Design credits are refined and resourceful across the board: Jeff McLaughlin’s symbolist set, Ric Zimmerman’s pin-point lighting plot, Shon LeBlanc’s usual spot-on wardrobe choices, Diane Martinous’ wigs — it’s ALWAYS about the hair — and Lindsay Jones’ evocative music and sound cues add immeasurably to an unusually engrossing and polished execution.

Speaking of which, the cast is exceptional — seamlessly vivid, nuanced and committed. Jason Karasev, so memorable in Tape at the Fringe a couple of cycles back, is heartbreaking as the title character at various ages, surmounting the pitfalls of playing so wide a range with faultless technique, so invested that a late-inning embarrassed moment finds him blushing, just as the character would.

Joel Polis has long been a local exemplar of character acting, so proficiency is expected. However, his assumption of Asher’s father, rabbi, uncle, artistic mentor, etc. literally seems like a different person with each entrance, from subtleties of dialect to physical posture and so forth. An astonishing turn, even from this actor.

And the ever-remarkable Anna Khaja, whose name this observer would enjoy merely seeing in print, reaches mesmeric, even preternatural depths inhabiting respectively, Asher’s mother, first patroness and the artist’s model who elicits the aforementioned blush, her inwardly shifting reactions and light-to-dark-and-back modulations defying criticism — a transcendent performance.

Which essentially describes the whole deeply touching show. It’s an early bar-setter for the theatrical year, an unprepossessing triumph for all concerned and an unforgettable experience. Don’t. Miss. It.

David C. Nichols is a freelance theater reviewer at the Los Angeles Times.

 

 

Director Stephen Sachs Finds Passion in ‘My Name Is Asher Lev’ at the Fountain Theatre

Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja and Joel Polis in 'My Name Is Asher Lev'.

Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja and Joel Polis in ‘My Name Is Asher Lev’.

by Renisha Marie

I recently caught Stephen Sachs’ thought-provoking, profound and riveting production of the play, My Name Is Asher Lev, taken from Chaim Potok’s 1972 novel of the same name, adapted for the stage by Aaron Posner.

The play is set in the 1950s, in the Brooklyn home of a Hasidic Jewish family, where a six-year-old boy named Asher Lev discovers an amazing gift bubbling within him. At a young age, the precocious Asher developed within him a strong fixation for art along with a focused, relentless, and positive can-do attitude.

Asher’s gift sends him on an amazing expedition of self-discovery and self-worth. The journey puts him at odds with his family’s expectations and religion, all for the sake of his passion for art.

My Name Is Asher Lev is a moving, challenging and thought-provoking play that crosses the lines of organized religion, ethnicity, and color, presenting for examination, on a universal level, readily identifiable social – human – conflicts. Follow me as we journey though the world of director and playwright Stephen Sachs:

Renisha Marie: Were there any personal parallels that brought you to the story?

Stephen Sachs

Stephen Sachs

Stephen Sachs: My parents were always very supportive of me wanting to be a theatre artist, so I never faced the intense parental conflicts that Asher battles in the play. For me personally, the closest parallel to Asher’s need to be an artist lies with my 18-year-old son, Daniel. He’s an artist. Like Asher, he’s been drawing since he was a little boy and it’s very clear that art is the path he is meant to follow.

Daniel reminds me of Asher in that he, too, has a gift and is passionate and determined to become who he is meant to be.

I wanted to do this play for my son.

Renisha Marie: What mindset did you have to possess in order to come out winning over your adversities?

Stephen Sachs: Whether guiding the Fountain Theatre for twenty-four years or simply surviving as an artist, the mindset that has served me best is when I trust my own artistic instincts and follow my heart. The more one does that, the more you develop an inner voice that speaks the truth to you and the more you learn to listen to it. The times when I’ve gotten myself into artistic trouble are the times when I refused to listen to what that inner voice was whispering.

Renisha Marie: What qualities were you probing for during casting?

Anna Khaja, Joel Polis, Jason Karasev.

Anna Khaja, Joel Polis, Jason Karasev.

Stephen Sachs: The play requires three exceptionally talented actors who must possess a very unique set of acting skills. Two of the actors play a variety of roles and must change character quickly, so you need actors with the technical skill to do that and who also possess the professional craft to be specific with each character and also have a deep emotional well that is truthful and honest. The actor playing Asher has the challenge of serving both as narrator and participant in the story. He must lead us on this journey and hold our attention, all the while being engaging and charming while wrestling with these very deep, profoundly personal struggles over family and self-identity. We must care about him deeply and want him to find his true way.

I’m blessed to have Jason, Joel and Anna — three gifted actors who worked very hard and are utterly dedicated to serving the play at the highest level possible.

Jason Karasev as Asher Lev.

Jason Karasev as Asher Lev.

Renisha Marie: What individual qualities did you see in Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja, and Joel Polis that made them stand out above the rest?

Stephen Sachs: I prefer working with actors I already know and trust. Jason was new to me; I had never seen him before. But, when Jason auditioned, there was no question in my mind that he was my Asher. He naturally had everything I was looking for: the right look, the intelligence, humor, charm, the ability to hold the stage as a storyteller, and the complexity and emotional depth as an actor. Anna and Joel are both actors I’ve known and respected for years, although this is the first project we’ve actually worked on together. Anna has a remarkable authenticity as an actress; her river runs deep. Joel has tremendous versatility and a fierce dedication mixed with a delicious sense of humor. Together, the three of them blend marvelously and have developed into an extraordinary, seamless ensemble.

Renisha Marie: What do you love about your work?

Stephen Sachs: What I love most about theatre is when I see how the work we create changes lives. The moments of artistic expression that have given me the most satisfaction are the ones when I see audiences profoundly moved — and somehow changed — by what we’ve just experienced together. It’s hard to pinpoint but you know it, you feel it, when it happens.

A connection happens between the actors on stage and the people in the audience, and between audience members themselves, when we all share in this deeply human experience and are somehow lifted and exalted by it. Moments like that make everything else worthwhile.

If you have a passion of any kind, then My Name Is Asher Lev is the play for you.

Production photos by Ed Krieger. Renisha Marie is a feature writer for Examiner

My Name Is Asher Lev Now – April 19 (323) 663-1525  MORE

NEW VIDEO: ‘My Name Is Asher Lev’ Video Trailer

Our thanks to our good friends at Footlights for creating this video.

My Name Is Asher Lev Now to April 19 (323) 663-1525  MORE

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: Opening Night Party for ‘My Name Is Asher Lev’ at the Fountain Theatre

Anna Khaja, Jason Karasev and Joel Polis

Anna Khaja, Jason Karasev and Joel Polis

Our powerful and moving Los Angeles premiere of My Name Is Asher Lev officially opened Saturday night, February 22nd, to an exuberant standing ovation. It was a glorious performance and a triumphant launch to an already successful run with many future performances sold out in advance.

Based on the best-selling novel by Chaim Potok and adapted for the stage by Aaron Posner, My Name Is Asher Lev dramatizes the story of a young Jewish boy determined to be an artist  — even in direct conflict with his devout Hasidic parents and community.  The deeply stirring production is directed by Stephen Sachs and stars Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja and Joel Polis.  

The sold-out Opening Night audience included members of the Fountain Theatre artistic team, Fountain Board members Kato Cooks and Karen Kondazian, as well as family, friends and several theater critics and feature writers from the press. All enjoyed the post-show Opening Night Reception upstairs in the Fountain cafe immediately after the performance.

Snapshots from the Opening Night Party 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My Name Is Asher Lev  Now to April 19 (323) 663-1525  MORE

Preview Audiences Love ‘My Name Is Asher Lev’ at the Fountain Theatre

Anna Khaja and Jason Karasev

Anna Khaja and Jason Karasev

“A beautifully written and superbly acted play.”

We enjoy getting emails and online comments from our Fountain audiences as we open and run our stage productions. Keeping an open and ongoing dialogue between artists and audiences is vitally important to us. Preview audiences are now getting an early look at our Los Angeles Premiere of My Name Is Asher Lev — and they love what they’re seeing.  Audiences are leaping to their feet in standing ovations. Here are a few comments posted by patrons after seeing our first two previews this weekend:  

” A beautifully written and superbly acted play. Never have I seen a play where there is passion in every single scene, in every single line. A true theater-goer’s gift.” – Terry

“I thoroughly enjoyed this dynamic dramatic presentation based on the Chaim Potok  novel. The three member cast is strong and convincing in the multiple characters they portrayed. The play presents the relationship and strains in an orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn when the mother and father have to deal with a son impelled from childhood to draw and paint; artistic endeavors not valued by his family nor the Hasidic community in which they are embedded . The play offers a glimpse into the customs, religious practices and values of a Hasidic family.” – Zamira P.

This is one moving piece of theatre ! Bravo to all!” – Barbara G.

“I’m happy I was there! So wonderful!” – Rhoda 

“Loved My Name is Asher Lev! Get thee to the Fountain!” – Barbara B. 

We invite you to come see what folks are raving about. Discount previews continue this week, Wednesday through Friday. We officially open this Saturday, February 22nd and run to Apirl 19th.

social-media-iconsSee the play and post your comments on our Facebook page, our Twitter account, or right here on our blog.

Join the conversation. We love hearing from you!  

My Name Is Asher Lev (323) 663-1525  MORE