New Century Theatre Company presents Aaron Posner’s adaptation of Chaim Potok’s “My Name is Asher Lev” in a spare, somber staging featuring Amy Thone, Conner Neddersen and Bradford Farwell.
Eugene, Ore.-reared Aaron Posner is having a Seattle moment. “Stupid F#@*ing Bird,” his popular, modern-slangy yet faithful adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” is running through May 8 at ACT Theatre.
At 12th Avenue Arts, New Century Theatre Company is also on the Posner beat with “My Name is Asher Lev,” a more muted play based on the same-titled novel by the late Jewish American author and rabbi, Chaim Potok.
Both Posner works on local display concern young male artists in the process of defining themselves, their talents, their places in the world. But the resemblance largely ends there.
‘My Name is Asher Lev’
by Aaron Posner. Through May 21, New Century Theatre Company at 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave, Seattle; $15-$40 (800-838-3006 or wearenctc.org).
In NCTC’s thoughtful mounting of “Asher Lev,” the title character (played by Conner Neddersen) is an observant Jew and only child in a passionately Hasidic home in Brooklyn during the 1950s. While his stern father (Bradford Farwell) travels the world on behalf of a leading rabbi, fighting the persecution of Jews in Stalin’s U.S.S.R., young Asher stays in New York with his kind, fretful mother (Amy Thone) to develop his gifts as a visual artist.
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But after a mind-opening mentorship under a secular Jewish painter, Jacob Kahn (also played by Farwell), the direction of Asher’s art career and choice of visual subject matter stuns his parents to the quick. How can their son, raised so devoutly in the Orthodox tradition, become obsessed with painting “pagan” images of Christ’s crucifixion?
Staged simply and somewhat somberly by Sheila Daniels, “Asher Lev” examines a universal conundrum: What does an artist do when being true to a creative vision means exploiting, even betraying one’s own loved ones and culture?
The story mirrors some of Potok’s own conflicts. Here and in “The Chosen” (his 1967 best-selling novel, also adapted by Posner), he wrote candidly, at times critically, about the close-knit, pious immigrant community he was raised in by elders who had suffered unspeakable losses in World War II, and how painful a “core-to-core confrontation of cultures not capable of easy resolution” can be for an artist.
New Century’s “Asher Lev” dwells on this dilemma, and is suffused with the downcast atmosphere of a melancholy home. Nedderson’s expression of dazed wonderment doesn’t evolve as much as the character does, and he is overshadowed in scenes where Farwell (whose accent out-Brooklyns Bernie Sanders’) loudly dominates as Kahn.
What elevates the slender play are Potok’s soul-searching prose and Thone’s multihued portrayal of Asher’s fragile, traumatized mother Rivkeh. Her maternal love and wisdom are blessings, her grief and bewilderment accusations.