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My Name is Asher Lev
Mar 20, 2015 - Mar 29, 2015$12.50 - $30.00
By Aaron Posner, adapted from the novel by Chaim Potok
Sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines and Temple B’nai Jeshurun’s Sidney and Rose Pearlman Fine Arts Fund
DATES: March 20th -29th, 2015
TIMES: Wed – Sat at 7:30 p.m., Sun at 2 p.m.
TICKETS: Midwestix or 515-309-0251
SUNDAY TALK-BACK: March 22, 2015 at 3:30pm or Immediately following the production
MY NAME IS ASHER LEV follows the journey of a young Jewish painter torn between his Hasidic upbringing and his desperate need to fulfill his artistic promise. When his artistic genius threatens to destroy his relationship with his parents and community, young Asher realizes he must make a difficult choice between art and faith. This stirring adaptation of a modern classic presents a heartbreaking and triumphant vision of what it means to be an artist.
- Asher Lev – Andrew Rubenbauer
- The Men – Greg Blumhagen
- The Women – Laura Sparks
- Director – Michael Tallman
- Stage Manager – Shelby Burgus
- Production Stage Manager – Shelby Burgus
- Set Design – April Zingler
- Lighting Design – Drew David Vander Werff
- Costumes Design – Jill Lindeman
- Property Design – Kelsi Tedesco
- Sound Design – Chris Williams
- Hair and Makeup Design – Cindy Hummel
- Master Carpenter – Paul Mostrom
- Dialect Coach – Caitlin Teters
- Dramaturge – Nancy Evans
Cityview Theatre Review: The War Within
Center Stage: Cityview Theatre Review
By John Domini
For a minute halfway into “My Name is Asher Lev,” nothing matters so much as a shadow. The dark profile of the title character, a budding artist, falls across a blank canvas, while his mentor prods him to do better — to leave his mark.
What’s more, the shadow evokes Asher’s struggle with his culture, the Hasidic Jews. Hasids dress in severe black and white. All in all, the effect reveals the care director Michael Tallman has taken. It required choreography among the cast, the set designer April Zingler (her first time handling the job) and Drew Vander Werff on the lights. But together, at that moment and throughout, “Asher Lev” kept things swift, poignant and winning.
Yet its materials seemed stark. The music tends to be subdued — no more than phrase on violin — and bare wooden columns frame the set. The sticks of furniture look rustic, and it comes as a surprise to learn the time is late 20th Century and the setting New York. A single costume cue, like the rabbi’s spectacular fur hat, will designate a change in character.
Such changes take place often. Aaron Posner’s script, adapted from a 1972 novel by the writer-rabbi Chaim Potok, requires just three players. One is Asher Lev, who grows from a dutiful Hasidic boy to a celebrated Manhattan painter. Around him are two opposing camps. His parents and the rabbi tussle with his artist mentor and a fashionable gallery owner, yanking Asher back to roots, shoving him out toward his calling. Others pop up as well, and all except Asher must be handled by two actors — a man and a woman.Andrew Rubenbauer as Asher Lev
At StageWest, they rise to the challenge. Laura Sparks has the richer emotional material. As Asher’s mother, her screams of grief can raise your hackles. Yet, as the gallery owner, Sparks brings off a comic turn, her accent switching smart-aleck Noo Yawk. And she’s not the only one speaking with forked tongue. Greg Blumhagen growls when he’s the father, then gets yippy as the mentor. Blumhagen also varies his body English — the father bullish, thrusting his head forward, the artist bouncy, loose in the hips.
But the play is finally Asher’s. In fact, the climax relies too much on his soliloquies. Toward the end, the script could use more give and take. Nonetheless, Andrew Rubenbauer generated unflagging intensity. A simple tic of his eyebrows could work up the drama needed in some of his long spells alone onstage, whether he spoke of a Talmudic devil or a Michelangelo sculpture. The way he clutched his midsection could make it seem as if the warring forces within might tear him apart. The role is Rubenbauer’s Des Moines debut, and only Jamaal Gabriel Allan — Stanley Kowalski in last month’s “Streetcar Named Desire” — brought off one to match it. CV
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.
Culture Buzz Theatre Review: ‘Asher Lev’ paints on a rich theatrical palette
‘Asher Lev’ paints on a rich theatrical palette
A theatre review by John Busbee/Culture Buzz
March 22, 2015
Pulling from the pages of pop culture a few decades ago and the tsunami-like success of Chaim Potok’s novel, “My Name Is Asher Lev,” StageWest Theatre Company presents the stage adaptation of this great story. StageWest shows that the core of this engaging story has a timeless appeal which still holds its audience while delivering its heartfelt story. Imbedded within the intimacy of the Kum & Go Theater space, on a stage glowing in warm tones, this story resonates with a special energy.
Potok’s mastery of storytelling first captured international acclaim through “The Chosen,” followed a few years later by this story. Steeped in tradition and faith, “My Name is Asher Lev” follows the struggle of Asher as he wrestles with the traditions of his Hasidic faith and the irresistible yearnings to be an artist. This stage version of Potok’s classic story resonates with its audiences, regardless of anyone’s religious heritage.
Aaron Posner’s stage adaptation firmly grasps the core issues at play, rewarding its audiences with a cerebral, yet visceral, cultural journey all will recognize. Bringing this story into the realm of live theater captures an essence not fully manifest in the book, giving those who experience this journey plenty of interpretive fodder to digest.
A trio of StageWest newcomers – Andrew Rubenbauer in the title role, Greg Blumhagen playing the men roles, and Laura Sparks playing the women roles – brings a wealth of performing experience to this production. Under Michael Tallman’s nurturing and insightful direction, this ensemble elevates this fluid, shifting story from script to stage with a special energy. Tallman further enhances his show through a unified team headed by another talented trio, scenic designer, April Zingler, lighting designer, Drew David Kleckner Vander Werff, and sound/video designer, Christopher J. Williams. These three deserve a special tip of the hat for creating a cohesive look and feel for Tallman’s vision. Further enhanced by costuming (Jill Lindeman) and makeup/hair/wig (Cindy Hummel). This blending of great ingredients provides the audience a masterful feast for the discerning cultural consumer.
Greg Blumhagen brings a fine sense of Yiddish legacy to his many men’s roles. Sometimes wandering close to caricature, he thankfully doesn’t cross that line. His best role is as Jacob Kahn, the demanding mentor who understands the journey young Asher is travelling. As Kahn, Blumhagen opens the gateway into the world of art that has been beckoning Asher since his childhood. Playing the women’s roles, Laura Sparks does especially enticing work as Rivkeh Lev, Asher’s mother. Sparks captures the loving, nurturing role, continually being the family moderator between Asher and his father, Aryeh, while battling her own inner struggles. When Rivkeh’s brother is killed, Sparks brings a chilling haunted demeanor to her character, very ably conveyed.
As Asher Lev, Andrew Rubenbauer offers a steadfast vulnerability to his role, embracing the conflict tearing at his heart and soul. His many protestations contradict the passionate calling he has as he copes with faith, heritage, art and family. The greater sense of Asher’s destiny is brought to full, vibrant force through Rubenbauer’s performance.
Zingler’s carefully crafted scenic areas, done in wood tones with spare furnishings, guide the action through Tallman’s staging and Kleckner Vander Werff’s lighting. Add Williams’ meticulously inserted musical and sound elements, enhancing scenes and trending action, and a complete and gratifying cultural journey is captured. Posner’s choice to run his play without intermission gives those joining this journey the chance to fully appreciate the story’s overall arc. StageWest is to be applauded for bringing such a fresh new work to Greater Des Moines, as “My Name Is Asher Lev” was a recent critically acclaimed winner in New York City.
Des Moines Register Theater Review: ‘Asher Lev’ paints story of art, faith
‘Asher Lev’ paints story of art, faith
A theatre review by Michael Morain
Des Moines Register, email@example.com 1:15 p.m. CDT March 23, 2015
Think for a second: How did you choose your identity?
If you rummage through your childhood memories, can you recall the turning points when you decided what sort of person you’d become?
Asher Lev can, and he dusts them off for a little show-and-tell in “My Name is Asher Lev,” a gentle, thoughtful story that StageWest offers through Sunday at the Des Moines Social Club. It’s about the moments that make Asher who he is: specifically, an observant artist and an observant Jew in 1950s Brooklyn, where those identities don’t comfortably overlap.
“Art is not for people who want to make the world holy,” Asher’s painting coach warns the 13-year-old boy. “You’ll be like a nun in a broth—.” For the boy’s sake, he downgrades “brothel” to “a theater for burlesque.”
Mixed metaphors aside, the line summarizes the tidy symmetry between art and religion that pulls the poor kid in two directions. As an artist, he tries to find his own voice. As a Jew, he answers not only to his people, in general, but his parents, who fled persecution in Russia and want to transplant their Hasidic roots in America. They’d prefer to see Asher swap his paints for a prayer book.
The 2009 script by Aaron Posner streamlines the 1972 novel by Chaim Potok, following Asher from kindergarten to young adulthood. The title role here belongs to Andrew Rubenbauer, who, in his Des Moines debut, gives just the right touch to young Asher’s fragile enthusiasm and teenage Asher’s angst. You feel for him.
Rubenbauer narrates the 90-minute show with short monologues stitched between scenes with Asher’s long-suffering parents and a few other adults, all ably played by Greg Blumhagen and Laura Sparks (dressed in both Jewish and high-society costumes by designer Jill Lindeman). The adult characters are more fleshed out in the novel, but even in quick vignettes on stage, Blumhagen and Sparks bring their roles to life with clarity and style — and decent accents, too, spread thick as cream cheese on a New York bagel. As Asher’s father, Blumhagen scolds the boy for drawing so many “naked vimmen.”
At Friday’s opening, the actors competed at times with the music — recorded snippets of piano and violin — but the soundtrack paid off near the end, when it dropped out at a key moment during one of Asher’s gallery openings. Likewise, the four giant window frames above the set (by April Zingler) seem heavy-handed until their symbolism snaps into place in the final scene.
The design elements, together with honest performances from the cast, add up to a quiet but undeniable success for first-time director Michael Tallman (who has directed StageWest’s script-reading series for two years but never a fully staged production). He seems to understand the value of showing rather than telling, especially with subjects as squishy as art and religion. (The Des Moines Community Playhouse understood that two years ago when it staged “Red,” about the painter Mark Rothko.)
Asher himself puts it this way: “Can you ever understand what you’re simply told, no matter how wise the teacher?”
Maybe not, but this show shows more than you might expect.