“My Name is Asher Lev” produced by New Century Theatre Company

With “My Name is Asher Lev” New Century Theatre Company lives up to its reputation of consistently offering some of the best productions on Seattle stages. Based on the best-selling book by Chaim Potok, this adaptation by Aaron Posner thrusts audience members into the dilemma of self-actualization vs. community tradition. The conflict is especially well presented in this production directed by Sheila Daniels.

Asher was born to be a painter but sadly born in the wrong family. He’s a Hasidic Jew, son of deeply religious parents, member of a Brooklyn, NY, congregation. The Hasidic tradition views artistic aspirations as inappropriate. No matter Asher’s talent, an artist’s life is not allowed. But Asher can’t ignore his drive to create. Thus he steps beyond the mindset of his community and causes his parents excruciating anguish.

We first meet him as a precocious and artistically talented five-year-old who is not encouraged to draw but not punished for it. His family’s connection to the Synagogue is strong, however. His father is called by the Rebbe to take a leading part in the Congregation’s efforts to aid their Russian brethren who are being subjected to intense persecution. This, of course, convinces Asher’s father that he must firmly forbid his son to persist with his art. Both parents see Asher’s obsession with art as antithetical to their faith. Asher, in all other ways an obedient boy, can’t obey.

Throughout the play as Asher matures, the conflict between Hasidic values and Asher’s artistic imperative increases in intensity. Asher is a true and gifted artist, and, as such, he must fully explore the depth of his God-given talents.

As the dramatic tension builds, the audience has the opportunity to see three highly gifted actors in bravura performances. Connor Neddersen as Asher captures all the torment of a loving son who has no choice but to go against his beloved parent’s wishes, and in the process to break their hearts. Bradford Farwell powerfully plays three roles: Papa, the Rebbe, and Jacob Kann (the artist who guides Asher’s artistic growth). He loves his son, but his son is flouting the traditions, the rules, and he can’t let him do that. Farwell captures the anguish as well as the anger, Amy Thone (straight off her remarkable performance in “The Other Place” at Seattle Public Theatre) is heartbreaking as the mother, the mother who adores her son, agrees with her husband, and is emotionally brutalized by this heartbreaking dilemma. She too plays additional roles, though these are minor.

The conflict is unresolvable. The heartbreak is crushing. You will not leave this theatre unmoved.

Through May 21, 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, tickets at WEARENCTC.ORG

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