“My Name is Asher Lev,” adapted by Aaron Posner from the novel by Chaim Potok, is a quiet play that deals thoughtfully with themes that others shout about. Is truth more important than loyalty? Does artistic expression trump obedience to one’s family, culture and religious mores? Is conflict better than compromise? Ultimately, for the characters in “Asher Lev,” it seems more about destiny than personal choice.
This production is a cooperative effort that first appeared to rave reviews at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre (JET) in West Bloomfield and is now running at Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor. It’s the story of a shy Hasidic Jewish boy who has a remarkable gift. The problem is, it’s a gift that flies in the face of his extremely orthodox Brooklyn community. Asher, at an early age, is blessed and cursed with the vision and skill of a true artist – and that vision puts him in direct conflict with beliefs he and his family have revered for generations.
Asher Lev is played by Mitchell Koory, who narrates the story from an adult perspective while enacting scenes from early childhood, through Yeshiva studies, Bar Mitzvah, and his discovery as a child prodigy. Koory resists any temptation to be adorable or precocious; his narrative is honest and compelling.
All of the other roles are played by Performance Network Theatre’s award-winning favorites John Seibert and Naz Edwards.
Seibert keeps his pantheon of characters distinct while somehow making a seamless transition from one to the other. He is stern but loving as Asher’s father, warm and generous as his uncle, wise and thoughtful as The Rebbe, and down-to-earth as Jacob Kahn – the artist who becomes Asher’s mentor.
Naz Edwards performs her own amazing transformation between roles, but the most amazing one is contained within the character of Asher’s mother, who visibly crumbles when a phone call brings news so devastating that she is physically and emotionally undone.
The trio is directed by David Magidson, Artistic Director of the JET, Theatre Professor at WSU, and a pillar of the Detroit theatre community. Regardless of whether Magidson works with the many professional theatres or with his Hilberry students, he always delivers the goods. Scenic designs by Sarah Tanner imaginatively evoke the painter’s own vision. Also contributing to this beautiful production are Jon Weaver (Lighting), Mary Copenhagen (Costume), and Julia Gray (Sound).
This is a brilliant show, appropriate for students, and a joy for anyone who favors taut scripts and ensemble acting over hijinks and histrionics. For extra fun, check out the Backstage Art Show, hosted by the Ugly Mug Cafe & Roastery. Right after the 85-minute performance, interested guests are escorted backstage to engage with works by local visual artists Mike Aul, Dora Diaspora, Alex Mandrila and Dan Muholland. It's a perfect way to end the evening.
“My Name is Asher Lev” runs at Performance Network Theatre through September 8, with evening performances on Thursdays at 7:30, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, and matinees on Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $22 - $41and can be purchased online, by calling 734-663-0681, or in person at the Performance Network Box Office at 120 East Huron St. in Ann Arbor.