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Review: ‘My Name is Asher Lev’ at 1st Stage

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From the beginning of the 1st Stage production of My Name is Asher Lev, we are told that the young Asher is an amazingly gifted artist. Asher, who is played by Lucas Beck, narrates the play, and every character that sees his drawings, recognizes his talent. This includes his father, a strictly observant Hasidic Jew who doesn’t understand and is threatened by Asher’s interest in art. Asher himself faces this internal conflict, wrestling over these competing traditions, and the love he feels for both worlds.

Lucas Beck as Asher Lev and Andy Brownstein as Jacob Kahn. Photograph courtesy of 1st Stage.

This central tension of the story reflects that of Chaim Potok, an accomplished painter, as well as the author of the popular novel, which many consider to be his most autobiographical. Aaron Posner adapted the play from Potok’s novel, earning Posner numerous awards, as did his earlier adaptation of Potok’s, The Chosen. Nick Olcott directs the production briskly, exploring an artist’s coming of age struggles.

Similar to Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, this is a memory play where the artist narrates his past as he strives to exorcise his feelings of guilt for defying his parent’s wishes. I believe that, as Williams suggests for his play, the relationships with Asher’s parents must be seen through a distorted lens of an artist’s memory. While Beck, as Asher, never leaves the stage, he moves adroitly from present-day narrator to younger versions of himself. The other male characters are all played by the commanding Andy Brownstein, while the versatile Hyla Matthews portrays all of the women in the play. Brownstein, when playing Jacob Kahn, is a beguilingly irascible artist whose nature it is to be blunt. He becomes mentor to Asher and challenges him constantly, recognizing that the belief that a great painter must stay true to his artistic vision, will conflict with Asher’s observant Judaism. My favorite portrayal by Matthews was Anna Schaeffer, a strong-willed, opinionated gallery owner and Asher’s agent.

1st Stage consistently brings terrific talent to our area and the actors are well-supported by excellent designers. I found the light design by Kristin A. Thompson and sound design by Reid May to be very compelling. Lights gave a dynamic view of the mother looking through a window which provided a central image for the play’s conflict. The soundscape moved the audience from an intimate family space rooted in religion, to a gallery teaming with people looking at art. These are quite different spaces for different types of observance.

Running time is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. Closed captioned performances will be offered for select performances.

My Name is Asher Lev plays through December 17 at 1st Stage — 1524 Spring Hill Road in Tysons, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 854-1856, or purchase them online.

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