By Diana Saenger
Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok's adaptation of Potok's classic novel, “The Chosen,” received critical and audience acclaim in 1967. The adaptation of another Potok novel, “My Name Is Asher Lev,” will have its world premiere at North Coast Repertory Theatre (NCRT). The story of a young Hassidic artist torn between observance of his Jewish faith and the conflict of who he truly is runs June 1-26.
NCRT artistic director David Ellenstein has a long history with Potok's books and the play adaptation of “The Chosen,” which he produced five times across the country.
“It’s an important part of my life,” Ellenstein said. “I’ve always had an infinity and connection to Potok's writing. I read ‘Asher’ many years ago and the book had a profound effect on me. I contacted Aaron Posner, who did the play adaptation, and we did a reading of it for the Jewish Arts Festival several years ago. The audience was so engaged we decided to put it this season’s lineup.”
In the drama, Asher is an artistic genius whose gift and passion for drawing and painting is in conflict with some Jewish laws.
“It really is about being true to yourself,” Ellenstein said. “It’s about the balance of one’s faith and culture and one’s calling to pursue what he feels is necessary. The play also deals with where the line is crossed or not crossed, as to doing what one needs to do or not do, and how hurtful it might be to those they care about.
“Certainly those familial and societal issues are relevant at any time. But Potok's writing resonates beyond a specific community – it could be about any group of people dealing with these issues.”
Ellenstein directs “My Name Is Asher Lev,” which is performed by three actors: Ellenstein, Craig De Lorenzo and Crystal Sershen. Ellenstein’s career at NCRT includes direction of a long list of plays and acting performances in many as well.
“This one has been tricky; not as easy as when I directed and appeared in ‘Talley’s Folly,’ ” Ellenstein said. “Chris Williams is co-director and that’s helped me immerse myself more in my character.”
NCRT expects high demand for tickets to “My Name Is Asher Lev,” and Ellenstein said he understands why.
“After I read Potok’s book, I was more tolerant of all people, and that no matter how weird their customs might be you, you have to look past that and see where they come from and who they are.
“What people are mostly after, is the same thing: being in touch with humanity and God in their own observation. I think Potok communicates that well. The play has humor, is heartfelt, and intelligently and emotionally gripping. It takes you on an intensive journey.”
If you go
‘My Name Is Asher Lev’
Matinees and evenings June 1-26
North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach