Holy Shit, a theatre company got in touch with me and invited me to come see and review their new show! Honestly guys, after Fringe I thought you had all forgotten my name! My suffering blogger ego was down to its last farthing of self-worth, I tells ya. But when the call finally came, I wasted no time! With a nod to Winston the Cat, I fired up my trusty Whirly-Bat and roared across the city to my destination, with no time to waste! Zoom!!
Well, okay, I hopped on a bus and slowly putt-putted across the city, but the end result was about the same. New show!!!
The invite was courtesy of the good folks at 9th Hour Theatre for their latest production, MY NAME IS ASHER LEV. From the novel by Chaim Potok, adapted by Aaron Posner, LEV tells the story of the titular Asher, an ‘observant Jew'(a phrase I only just heard for the first time during this show…I am quite an unobservant religious sideliner, so I was hearing a LOT of jargon for the first time) who tries to reconcile his religious passions and faith with his overriding drive to become a great painter and artist. I’m often wary of plays with a religious theme, mostly because I’m such an ignorant, swarthy heathen (okay, I’m not swarthy), so I walked into this one with…not trepidation exactly, but relatively reserved expectations. But then, the always trustworthy superstar Bronwnyn Steinberg was at the director’s chair for this one…and if that wasn’t reason enough to give it a chance, then reason doesn’t mean what I think it does.
The theatre at Arts Court has been rejiggered a bit for this one, splitting the audience on different sides of a rather attractive set from designer Patrice Ann Forbes (who also took care of the nicely authentic costumes) depicting the modest Brooklyn home of the mightily Jewish Lev clan, headed by strict father Aryeh (David Whitely, rocking the Hasidic beard like a champ) and young, doting mother Rivkeh (Sarah Gabriella Waisvisz…oy, that wig!). Together they grapple with their growing boy Asher (Drew Moore, fresh from the Ottawa Theatre School and THE SUICIDE) as he enters the world of art. Papa Lev takes it about as well as Krusty the Clown’s Rabbi dad did, and years of heartache and conflict ensue. Eventually, Asher discovers the world of Jakob Kahn (Whitely again), a renowned Jewish painter who takes the passionate lad under his wing, raising the stakes ever higher.
I was merrily surprised with ASHER LEV, its oodles of humour and warmth, and the wonderful way it soberly pitted religion versus art while still portraying both with something akin to reverence. Drew Moore does himself proud as the conflicted hero, trying to honour his parents while following his irresistible path. Waisvisz is wonderful as Rivkeh, getting strong emotion across in a mostly subdued performance. And David Whitely and his beard also turn in solid performances, and his portrayal of devout Aryeh is especially memorable indeed. The whole play is staged beautifully, with an intimate set that somehow manages to feel expansive when it needs to. I have a minor quibble with the use of music in the show, as once or twice it threatened to overpower a key scene, and strong dramatic moments bordered on cheesy as a result. But for the most part, it was a lovely accompaniment.
9th Hour and their gang have put together a pretty damn terrific show, that a devout Pagan like me ate up with delight. The show runs until the 25th at Arts Court Theatre, and y’all should do yourselves a favour and check it out. Peace, love and soul,
the Visitor (and Winston)