note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
The Lyric Stage Company of Greater Boston’s production of Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok’s stage adaptation of Potok’s 1967 novel, “The Chosen,” is exquisite, laden with symbolism, sensitivity, and blessed with a strong commitment to making every detail vividly authentic and realistic.
From Orthodox Jewish designer Brynna Bloomfield’s symbolic set, designed with a centrally-placed, arched bookcase simulating the synagogue ark that encases the holy scrolls, or Torah; bookshelves with Talmudic volumes and other tomes, to a “shtender” or religious speaker’s podium located on one side of the stage and a secular desk on the other, this minimalist set radiates Hebrew symbolism.
To ensure theatergoers understand every word in the play, the printed program contains a two-page glossary of Yiddish and Hebrew terms.
As the show opens, internationally-acclaimed floor projection designer Martin Mendelsberg’s diamond-shaped area converts from a neighborhood baseball diamond to a large “aleph,” Hebrew letter. And John Malinowski’s lighting, with Dewey Dellay’s thoughtful sound and musical enhancement, highlight the narrator, and dramatic split stage scenes. Charles Linshaw as reminiscent, adult Reuven Malter, artfully narrates this tale of improbable friendship and father-son relationships, his passion as compelling as the entire magnificent cast’s.
Although the play zeroes in on two devout Jewish boys in 1940’s Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, whose fathers’ philosophies are diametrically opposed to each other, “The Chosen” could easily embrace teen-agers of opposing Christian, Islamic, or Asian sects, whose friendship builds a bridge of commonality, understanding and mutual respect.
And costume designer Mallory Frers carefully researched the clothing of 1940‘s Hasidic Jews, from their long black coats and hats, to their tallis, or prayer shawl’s fringe dangling underneath their vests, to contrasting typical male street clothing of that era.
Israeli-born award-winning director Daniel Gidron and this amazing cast and crew keep the audience’s attention riveted to the small stage, especially Joel Colodner’s magnificent performance as Hasidic leader Reb Saunders. When Colodner chants prayers in Hebrew, engages in discussions about the holy text, mysticism or numerology, he’s awe-inspiring.
Besides discussing the Talmud, the strict, widowed father teaches Daniel, his teen-age son and heir to the congregation’s leadership, that one can hear voices and their own soul in silence.
Luke Murtha as the sensitive, fragile, secretly rebellious Daniel, struggling against his stringent, silent upbringing, strikes a delicate balance and sharp contrast with his teen-age foe-now-friend, Reuven Malter, whom Zachary Eisenstat portrays with intellectual curiosity, and likable, adolescent camaraderie. Reuven and Daniel meet under adverse conditions, vying against each other in their neighborhood Jewish baseball league. They automatically dislike each other, but when Danny’s hit lines the ball straight to pitcher Reuven’s eye, sending Reuven to the hospital, their friendship blossoms when Danny apologizes.
Reb Saunders, whose followers regard him with reverential rock star status, invites Reuven to attend a service and study Talmud with him and Danny. And when the boys attend the same religious Hirsch College, Danny visits Reuven’s home, then realizes Reuven’s father, a Talmudic scholar-writer, is the stranger who recommends secular literature for him to read at the public library, unbeknownst to Reb Saunders.
Boston star Will McGarrahan as Reuven’s low-key dad, David Malter, is a fantastic foil to the Reb, While the boys’ friendship together and with each other’s father continues smoothly, they’re suddenly split by their dads’ philosophical schism regarding post-World War Zionism. David Malter strongly believes in Ben Gurion and the need to create a Jewish state in Israel, while Reb Saunders vehemently opposes it, insisting God and the Messiah will guide and care for holocaust survivors and the world’s remaining Jewish fringe. But there’s more. The boys’ plans for their future, especially Danny’s, defy their fathers’.
Gidron creates a balletic balance between fathers and sons, friendship, tradition, unwavering religious faith and promise, that moves even atheists to tears.
BOX INFO: Two-act play, based on Chaim Potok’s novel, adapted for the stage by Potok and Aaron Posner, presented by The Lyric Stage Company of Greater Boston through Nov. 17 at the 140 Clarendon St., Boston theater. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3,8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. Wednesday matinee, Nov.14 at 2 p.m. Tickets, $25-$58; seniors, $5 discount; student rush, $10. Group rates also available. Call 617-585-5678 or visit lyricstage.com.