When we view a work of art, we sometimes turn to information about the artist to gain perspective on what they have created. We know that the world around an artist influences the way they see things and what they produce. However, what happens when there is no connection back to the culture of the artist in what they produce? Can that simply be chalked up to the concept of the free flow of creativity? And what if their productions might be offensive to their family and community? The play “My Name is Asher Lev” explores these and other issues. It is currently playing now through this weekend ending this Sunday, May 1, at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick.
Billed as the final offering of George Street’s 2015 – 2016 season, it makes a nice season finale because it explores the conflicts that artists endure between the nature of what they feel and develop in their art versus how they are raised and what their culture expects of them. This play is adapted from the novel by Chaim Potok, written by Aaron Posner, and directed by Jim Jack. “My Name is Asher Lev” played in several regional theaters before its Off-Broadway run that went 2012 – 2013 and it won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play.
At the George Street Playhouse, the large, expansive stage becomes a sort of canvas used to paint a picture of the conflict that a young man, Asher Lev, goes through in order to successfully become the painter he is meant to be. The story begins with the lead character doing a transformation from narrator who is the artist as grown man back into a five-year boy by sitting like a child on the stage. It is a complicated role but one that Miles G. Jackson pulls off well in a very believable fashion. Young Asher loves to draw but unfortunately many of the things he puts onto paper are seriously against the culture and teachings of the Hadisic Jewish faith to which he and his parents belong. His father works closely with the Rabbi of his area to help further the causes of Judaism. Significant is the fact that the time period is post World War II so the necessity of having the strong devotion to the preservation of the Jewish faith and beliefs is evident. Asher’s mother is a devoted wife and mother who devotion to the faith is unquestioned. Both of Asher’s parents make it very clear to him that those things he prefers drawing are not acceptable to them and he should refrain from doing so.The play then centers around Asher Lev growing up and discovering his artistic side and allowing it to come out in full force despite the fact that he hurts his family. He has the soul of an artist and his eventual decision is simply stated at the end.
In addition to the fine acting from Miles Jackson in the role of Asher Lev, there is also Bob Ari who plays all The Men parts and Lena Kaminsky who plays all The Women. Each of them give well defined performances that allow the play to become poignant in spots but also very powerful at times.
High praise goes to the artistic staff for their amazing staging in creating a unique setting at all times on stage. It was easy to picture all the different scenes that took place on the sparsely decorated stage even at times imagining looking out windows to the streets below. Christopher Bailey’s work on lighting must be mentioned because it sets tones and creates atmospheres where certain characters appear larger than life and others are prone to look like they are having a difficult time as they progress through a traumatic part of their life.
“My Name is Asher Lev” will conclude its run this Sunday, May 1, 2016. For tickets, go to the George Street Playhouse website, To see more pictures from the show, visit the Facebook page of Let’s Go to the Theater.