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My Name is Asher Lev

Giovanni Mocibob as Asher. Photo by Tim Matheson.My Name is Asher Lev
Adapted by Aaron Posner from the novel by Chaim Potok.
A Pacific Theatre production
Pacific Theatre,
Jan 38 to Feb 26, 2011

Vancouver, BC: Pacific Theatre has done it again, giving us another little gem of a play.  Adapted by Aaron Posner from the eponymous novel by Chaim Potok, My Name is Asher Lev portrays a gifted young artist who is compelled to follow his creative passion even though it ultimately means exile from his family and the community in which he grew up.

The cast of three, directed with a nuanced sensitivity by Morris Ertman, features Giovanni Mocibob as Asher,  while Nathan Schmidt and Katharine Venour play several male and female characters. Schmidt plays Asher's father Aryeh Lev, Asher's artistic mentor and teacher Jacob Kahn, Asher's uncle Yaakov and The Rebbe, leader of the Hassidic Community.  Venour plays Asher's mother Rivkeh,  Anna the art gallery owner  who shows Jacob's and Asher's work, and a artist's model.

Giovanni Mocibob and Nathan Schmidt. Photo by Ron ReedAsher Lev is a Hasidic Jew, growing up in Brooklyn, New York during the 1940s and 50s. He is a childhood prodigy, his talent for drawing already becoming apparent at the age of 6. years of age.

His father is completely committed to Hasidism and the teachings of the Torah, and travels constantly throughout Europe and Russia on behalf of the The Rebbe to develop yeshivas (Torah schools) and bring religious teachings to the oppressed Jewish communities. Obsessed by his faith, he is not capable of understanding Asher's needs and is outraged that Asher draws rather than studies Torah-  after all "what will people think?"

Giovanni Mocibob, Nathan Schmidt, Katharine Venour. Phot by on ReedEven Asher's mother who understands his need to make art, is caught between her desire for her son to be happy, and her love for her husband and his work.

The power of this story lies in the universality of this conflict between parent and child. Although Asher Lev may be an extreme example of the battle between father's faith art versus son's art in a religious community, conflict between parental expectations and the desires of their children occurs and has occurred over many different issues since time immemorial.

The lighting (Matt Frankish) and set design (Lauchlin Johnston) uses the intimacy of the alley style theatre with its small playing space between opposite tiers of seats effectively to contrast the confining aspect of Asher's home with the greater world outside his community. A versatile hanging panel becomes an picture, a door, a table.

Posner captured the essence of Potok's novel in two relatively short acts.  I was completely caught up in this battle between these two immovable forces - the implacable demand of the father that his son value faith over art, and the inescapable drive of the son to follow his creative drive. It is a heart-wrenching play, beautifully done and well worth seeing.

My Name is Asher Lev runs till February 26th. For tickets call 604-731-5518 or book online at www.pacifictheatre.org