BWW Review: MY NAME IS ASHER LEV at 1st Stage

BWW Review: MY NAME IS ASHER LEV at 1st StageWritten by Aaron Posner, a DC-area favorite, and directed for 1st Stage by Nick Olcott, My Name is Asher Lev is the adaption of author Chaim Potok's 1972 novel of the same name.

Asher Lev (Lucas Beck) is a highly gifted artist, a fact that conflicts with his identity as a Hasidic Jew. At the very beginning of the play, we are alerted to the enormity of his dilemma when he reveals the subject of his greatest work to date: crucifixions.

Written as a series of vignettes spanning Asher's adolescence to mid-adulthood, Beck's performance is imbued with a depth of emotion that successfully portrays Asher as a young man in turmoil.

In My Name is Asher Lev, we learn from Asher's mentor, artistic Jacob Kahn (Andy Brownstein), that an artist must master his medium and the traditions of his medium. This includes the female nude and the crucifixion, which are strictly forbidden by the leader of Asher's church, the Rebbe (Brownstein), and his father, Aryeh (Brownstein). Nevertheless, Asher stubbornly persists, married to both his art and his religious heritage.

Set in the early 1950s, Aryeh travels to Europe for the Rebbe, spreading Hasidic Judaism in a post-World War II world. Unable to reconcile his son's artistic passion with his own deeply religious commitments, Aryeh and Asher remain at odds throughout the entirety of the play.

My Name is Asher Lev is a memory play; unrestricted by the strict norms of cold, hard realism. This technique works so well for independent theaters and 1st Stage's production team is no stranger to innovation.

Like a colorful dream, Posner's characters blur together and sounds and lights are exaggerated. Sound Designer Reid May and Lighting Designer Kristin A. Thompson curate a colorful and dramatic sound and light-scape that transplants the audience into Asher's spotty memory, where emotions, rather than a detailed timeline or facts, reign supreme.

Brownstein and Hyla Matthews portray all of Asher's father and mother figures. Matthews is particularly compelling as his mother, Rivkeh. Weighed down by the burdensome task of reconciling husband and son, Rivkeh is the subject of her son's seminal work. Her transformation into the fast-talking and composed Manhattan gallery owner Anna Schaeffer is just as impressive.

Brownstein juggles four formidable, distinct personalities with apparent ease.

My Name is Asher Lev is easily digestible and fast-paced. There are moments of inspiration and reflection throughout the production that make the play a worthwhile trip to the theater.

Running Time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

MY NAME IS ASHER LEV plays through December 17th at 1ST Stage located at 1524 Spring Hill Rd, Tysons Corner, VA 22102. For tickets call (703) 854-1856 or click here.

Photo credit: (L-R) Hyla Matthews, Lucas Beck, and Andy Brownstein in "My Name is Asher Lev." Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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From This Author Jenny Minich

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