Round House Theatre’s My Name Is Asher Lev is a gripping exploration of the conflict between duty to oneself and duty to others.
By Julie LaPorte
What must a man go through to become who he is? My Name Is Asher Lev, playing at the Round House Theatre, is a personal narrative, told in a series of flashbacks, about the major events in Asher Lev’s life that bring him to his current state as the controversial painter of the “Brooklyn Crucifixes.” Written by Aaron Posner and adapted from the Chaim Potok novel, My Name Is Asher Lev is directed by Jeremy Skidmore.
Asher Lev is born and raised in Brooklyn, an observant Hasid Jew. His father is a traveler and scholar, dedicated to the work he does for the Ribbono shel Oylom. His mother is devoted to her husband and son, but tormented by grief for the loss of her brother and the weight of unfulfilled dreams. Torn by his incredible gift for drawing, his father’s disapproval and his mother’s heartbreak, Asher must choose between duty to his art and duty to his family.
Alexander Strain perfectly embodies the passionate and conflicted Asher Lev, moving from a scared and hesitant child, through conflicted teenage years, into an artist at an uneasy peace with who he is and what he is compelled to create. This is his story, of the moments that stand out for their life-altering quality. “Sometimes it’s the smallest things that stay with you the longest. Don’t you find?” Strain asks, his eyebrows raised after a small comment by his father shakes the foundations of his world.
Adam Heller plays Asher’s father, the rebbe and the artist Jacob Khan, bringing to each a different set of attributes. As father he is gruff and unbending, believing absolutely in life as prescribed by the Torah. As the rebbe he is wise and compassionate, seeing the hand of the Ribbono shel Oylom in mysterious ways. But it was Heller’s portrayal of Jacob Khan – passionate, driven, energetic, funny and irreverent – that felt most true.
Lise Bruneau plays Asher’s mother, the gallery owner who sells his art and the model who poses for Asher. Both the gallery owner and model have a worldly quality, a breezy come-what-may attitude. But as the mother, Bruneau gives a quietly powerful performance that is genuine and nuanced and fully real. Our heart breaks as hers does, our grief finds an answer in her.
“Audiences will relate to Asher Lev in their own personal way,” said Blake Robison, Producing Artistic Director. “It’s not only a coming-of-age story about being Jewish or about being an artist. No. Asher’s journey touches anyone who has felt different growing up, who has been at odds with his parents or his culture. It’s about anyone who has taken the profound and risky step of listening to their own heart and following their passion.”
For more information on My Name Is Asher Lev and upcoming performances at Round House Theatre, visit their website.