The struggles faced by all artists have inspired many books, films and plays.
In My Name is Asher Lev, the title character is a young man whose passion for drawing arouses the ire of his traditional Hasidic parents. They are particularly aghast when after a visit to a museum the boy becomes fascinated with drawing nudes and images of the crucifixion.
Adapted from Chaim Potok’s 1972 novel, playwright Aaron Posner has Asher narrating his own story, thereby allowing Geoff Kolomayz to portray Asher as an adult as well as a teenaged boy. Kolomayz is terrific in bringing the teenaged angst to the forefront. His delivery is natural and heartfelt, and whether talking directly to the audience or addressing other characters, he gives a charismatic performance that sweeps the viewer into his world.
We are on his side from the beginning and this makes his ultimate success a particularly moving development.
Posner’s script is designed for three performers. So Mark Albert must create four distinct characters of contrasting views that help underscore Asher’s internal conflict. He is Asher’s stern father – a man who is unable to understand art, and therefore not accepting of his son’s artistic leanings.
He also portrays Asher’s uncle and the Rebbe who encourages Asher to study with an established artist, Jacob Kahn. As Jacob, Albert instructs the young man: “As an artist you are responsible to no one and to nothing, except to yourself and to the truth as you see it.”
In the triple roles of Asher’s mother, benefactor and model, Tracey Beltrano displays her multi-faceted talents. She brings a touchingly forlorn look to the role of the mother who spends hours staring out the window waiting for her husband to return from travels across Europe building Yeshivas and saving Jews from Russian persecution. She is effective in showing her tough side as she commands Asher to have respect for his father: “Kibbud Ov.”
Ari Weisberg has designed and directed the show to play on an open stage that serves the multiple locations effectively. He has also worked with his trio of performers to create affecting performances, and the production is enhanced by Noam Bergman’s incidental music and Poe Limkul’s evocative lighting.
Weisberg can also claim credit for allowing Toronto audiences a chance to see this play so soon. Earlier this year it was presented at the Long Warf Theatre in New Haven and as Teatron’s production was opening, another production was starting previews in New York with an official off-Broadway opening set for later this month.
Teatron’s production of My Name Is Asher Lev plays in the Studio theatre at the Toronto Centre for the Arts through Sunday, Nov. 18. For tickets, visit www.teatrtontheatre.com or call the box-office at 416-733-0545.