Sam Mandel in “The Chosen” at the Fountain Theatre
After a six-month sold-out run earlier this year, the Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed Los Angeles Premiere of The Chosen by Chaim Potok will open this weekend for a limited run at the Schultz Cultural Arts Hall in Palo Alto. The original cast and director return for two special performances October 20 and 21.
Adapted for the stage by Aaron Posner and directed by Simon Levy, the production features Jonathan Arkin, Steven B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman, and Sam Mandel. The Schultz Cultural Arts Hall is a 380 seat theatre, giving the cast the opportunity to enjoy a larger audience than the Fountain’s seventy-eight seats allows. It also lifts the production to a full contract under Actors’ Equity Association.
The Schultz Cultural Arts Hall is located at the Palo Alto JCC. Its curatorial efforts are focused on Jewishness, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. Art’s transcendent nature and its ability to spark curiosity about the other, dialogue about freedom, values and compassion.
If you’re in the Bay Area — or have friends who live there — share the good news. The Chosen at the JCC in Palo Alto on Saturday, Oct 20 at 7:30pm and Sunday, Oct 21 at 7pm.
The cast of ‘The Chosen’ take final bows on closing weekend.
by Stephen Sachs
Our six-month sold-out run of The Chosen came to an end on Sunday. In the opening moment of Aaron Posner’s stage adaptation of Chaim Potok’s classic novel, Reuven Malter faces the audience and asks, can two conflicting ideas or realities be true at the same time even if they directly contradict each other? From the cross-current of feelings still swirling within me after Sunday’s final performance at the Fountain Theatre, the answer is clearly yes. As with any closure, even those we know are coming, I felt sadness and the ache of letting go. Yet, in direct opposition, my heart soared with joy. Two conflicting perceptions. Both true.
I glowed with fulfillment at the closing of The Chosen not because our production earned rave reviews, including being highlighted as the LA Times Critic’s Choice. Not because it ran for six months and every performance was sold-out. Not because it joined the echelon of other top box-office champions at the Fountain Theatre.
It was because of the people. The talented artists and dedicated production team members who brought our production of the play to life, for the sole purpose of emotionally moving and spiritually inspiring other human beings, our audiences. It’s the interchange between people, from our stage to our patrons, that gives me the deepest satisfaction. Fountain folk connected with this play and this production like kindred at a family gathering. For the two-hour length of each performance, we laughed together, wept together, were reminded of our fathers, our sons and ourselves, together.
Why do we do theatre? Why do people come? This is why.
One of my favorite passages in the novel is when Reuven’s father, David Malter, tells his young son:
“Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So, it may be asked what value is there to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye?
I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning Do you understand what I am saying? A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life.
It is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here.”
This is my purpose for the Fountain Theatre and the guiding principle behind dedicating my life to starting and running a non-profit arts organization. To create art that is meaningful. A life filled with meaning is well lived.
The title of Potok’s novel and play, “The Chosen”, obviously refers to the belief in Judaism that the Jews are the chosen people, chosen to be in a covenant with God. The word “chosen” is an adjective. To “choose”, however, is a verb, an action word. At the Fountain Theatre, we take action to choose to create, to develop and produce work that is meaningful. We choose plays that hold the promise to touch hearts and open eyes and challenge minds. To make the world a better place. As David Malter warns his son, it is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning. But no matter the struggle, this is the mission we choose at the Fountain. When we produce a play that is specific to the Jewish faith yet can uplift the soul and spark the minds of audiences of all faiths, we fulfill our agreement with that which is sacred and holy. And that is a good thing.
After a critically-acclaimed, six month sold-out run, our production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen celebrated its final performance yesterday to another full house and a standing ovation. The Chosen has earned its place as one of the most successful productions in recent Fountain Theatre history. Equally important, it touched many hearts, moving and inspiring audiences.
Adapted for the stage by Aaron Posner and directed by directed by Simon Levy, the production featured Jonathan Arkin, Alan Blumenfeld, Steve B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman, and Sam Mandel.
Following Sunday’s final performance, the company toasted the long, gratifying run with the audience in our upstairs cafe.
Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs announced from the stage Sunday that Fountain Theatre will bring its acclaimed production of The Chosen to the Oshman Family JCC Arts Center in Palo Alto in October.
Our Fountain Family is at the core of our theatre. This week, I had the privilege to sit down with a few of our patrons before the Monday night performance of our hit production, The Chosen. Our conversations were not only enriching but made me proud of our thriving LA theater community.
At the beginning of the night, I spoke with Fountain first-time patrons Debbie and Cathy. They expressed how they are usually season ticket holders at the Mark Taper Forum and generally like to view larger productions in the LA area. However, when they heard that Chaim Potok’s The Chosen was being performed, they bought tickets. “It’s one of my favorite books,” Cathy exclaimed.
The exceptional reviews for The Chosen have been bringing more first-time patrons to our door. So has the universal message of acceptance that is at the core of both the book and stage adaptation. The play has also been very inspirational and heartwarming for LA’s Jewish community, bringing some back to the beauty and wisdom of tradition. While speaking with patrons, I met a group of Sephardic theatre goers who were also equally excited to see Chaim Potok’s work adapted for the stage. Here is a snippet of my conversation with Fountain patrons Karin, Aliza and Victor.
Q: Is this your first time at the Fountain?
Victor: No, we were here many years ago. This has been here a long time, no? Maybe like 30 years ago.
Q: Do you like to see theater in LA?
Victor: Yes yes, we love [theatre] …. We used to [go] all the time at the Ahmanson and buy their [season subscription] but not this year.
Aliza: Well you have a community that is goes to theater. You have a community for everything [in LA.]
Victor: One of the things that I like about Los Angeles is that there is theater. You know, I’m from Mexico City. We are from Mexico City. (Pointing to himself and Aliza) She is from Buenos Aires, (Pointing to Karin) Mexico City is the place for theatres, ya know. So I am used to the theatre. That’s why one of the reasons I like to be here in Los Angeles is because this is where things are happening. When I moved to California, first I moved to Del Mar and I found it quite boring.
Q: Where is that?
Victor: Del Mar is north of San Diego. Even San Diego itself is no comparison to Los Angeles. Of course, this is no comparison with New York. I wish I were in New York and I’m not in New York so at least I’m in Los Angeles.
Debbie and Cathy
Q: What brought you tonight to The Chosen?
Victor: Our friend Karin invited us!
Karin: The president of our synagogue, we’re Jewish, told me. We like Flamenco so we told them that they play Flamenco there. He said, “We saw The Chosen there!” So we bought tickets.
Q: Have you read The Chosen?
All: Yes! Of course!
Q: How has your overall experience been so far since getting to the theater?
Victor: I just arrived here and very excited. I like very much plays. As I was telling you, we buy the yearly pass for the Ahmanson Theater. It’s a completely different experience. I think here it’s more the kind of people who are really interested in theater.
Aliza: The good thing in LA is the people. You will have people from India, from Mexico from South America from Europe! You have a mix of cultures and it’s the same in the theater. You will have theaters for certain groups. Every area has its own community!
Q: And will you be back for Forever Flamenco at the Fountain?
Victor: (gesturing to his wife Aliza) We have children who are twins and yesterday was their 18th birthday. And I told Aliza, I wanted to go to a restaurant to see Flamenco. I didn’t know it was here. Because I wanted to see something Flamenco. We are Sephardic, ya know. Sephardic from Spain. There was a Sephardic show in one of the synagogues in Beverly Hills but I wasn’t able to take my children. I want them to see, so we’ll be here!
If you’d like to share your own experience at The Fountain Theatre on our Fountain Folk blog, please contact Outreach Coordinator, Dionna Michelle Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org
Steven B. Green in ‘The Chosen’ at the Fountain Theatre (photo by Ed Kreiger)
The Fountain Theatre’s hit production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen has been extended a second time, now playing to June 10th. A silent father, an ancient tradition and an unexpectedly important game of baseball forge bonds of lifelong friendship between two Jewish boys from “five blocks and a world apart” in this funny, poignant, timely and timeless father-son story about recognition and acceptance of “the other.” The smash hit production has sold out every performance since it opened on January 20th.
Adapted for the stage by Aaron Posner and Directed by Simon Levy, the cast includes Jonathan Arkin, Steven B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman, and Sam Mandel.
Sam Mandel, Dor Gvirtsman and Steven B. Green in ‘The Chosen’.
The Fountain production has earned rave reviews everywhere. It has been highlighted as Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times and is Ovation Award Recommended.
“CRITIC’S CHOICE! DEEPLY EMOTIONAL” — Los Angeles Times
“MAGIC… four stand-out actors… directed with visionary insight” — Broadway World
“INSPIRED… LIVELY… ABSORBING.” —Cultural Weekly
“FIVE STARS… EMOTIONALLY STUNNING… DON’T MISS IT” — Haines His Way
“MESMERIZING… this play has something for everyone – Jewish or not.” — LA Splash
“WOW!… EXQUISITE… gripping, edifying, and moving… a must-see!” — Stage Scene LA
“EXQUISITE AND HEARTFELT” — Showmag
“ASTONISHING… vital, alive, and important” —Stage and Cinema
“RECOMMENDED… STAGE RAW TOP 10… CLASSY” —Stage Raw
“STUNNING… ageless and universal… theatre at its finest.” — The Tvolution
“DEEPLY MOVING… fresh and meaningful” — Theatre Spoken Here
“WELCOME INDEED… beauty and simple truths” — Ticket Holders LA
The Fountain Theatre’s ongoing post-show discussion series, Breaking It Down, will continue through the extension with thought-provoking conversations on themes connected to issues explored in the play.
In the wake of nearly two-dozen rave reviews and six weeks of sold-out houses, the Fountain Theatre has extended its run of The Chosen and increased performances from three to four per week. Adapted by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok from Potok’s bestselling novel of the same name, The Chosen will now continue through May 7.
A moving coming-of-age story set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn against the backdrop of World War II, the revelation of the Holocaust and the desperate struggle of Zionism, The Chosen is the story of two observant Jewish boys who live only five blocks, yet seemingly worlds, apart. Danny (Dor Gvirtsman) is the son of the charismatic but forbidding Reb Saunders (Steven B. Green, stepping in for the extension), an ultra Orthodox tzaddik who has raised his son in strict silence. Reuven (Sam Mandel) is the son of the more traditionally Orthodox scholar and fervent Zionist David Malter (Jonathan Arkin). When Danny injures Reuven during a baseball game between their rival yeshivas, their two universes collide and a unique friendship is born.
In its “Critic’s Choice” review, the Los Angeles Times calls the play “deeply emotional,” noting that the Fountain production “reminds us to reach across divides.” L.A. Splash writes that The Chosen is “a universal story of relationships in their multitude of forms, mak[ing] this play something for everyone – Jewish or not.” Stage Scene LA says, “’The Chosen’ is a must-see for audiences of any age, ethnicity, or religious affiliation.” BroadwayWorld hailsThe Chosen as “a moving coming-of-age story… funny, poignant, timely and timeless,” and Stage and Cinema declares it to be “vital, alive, and important.”
“We are thrilled that this production is resonating with so many people, and that we are touching so many hearts,” says director Simon Levy.
Akiva Potok chats with the company of ‘The Chosen’ and audience in Q&A.
What’s it like to grow up in a house where your father is the author of a beloved internationally best-selling novel dubbed “the Jewish Catcher in the Rye” that is taught in classrooms around the world? Last night, you could have asked Akiva Potok this question yourself, when the Fountain hosted a Q&A discussion following the sold-out performance of the stage adaptation of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen. Akiva is Chaim Potok’s son.
The lively conversation with Potok drew intriguing questions from the audience. Akiva described his relationship with his world-famous father as one that grew closer when Akiva was in his early twenties and his father gave himself permission to become more open and vulnerable with his son. Audience members commented on the skill and authenticity of the actors and the powerful appeal of the story. One gentleman pointed out that the play’s central spiritual and philosophical theme, that two opposing realities can be true at the same time, has been proven in modern physics and quantum theory.
Akiva was joined onstage by actors Jonathan Arkin, Alan Blumenfeld, Dor Gvirtsman, Sam Mandel, and director Simon Levy. The discussion was moderated by Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs.
Our acclaimed production of The Chosen continues our relationship with the work of Chaim Potok, adaptor Aaron Posner, and Potok’s son, Akiva. The Fountain produced the Los Angeles premiere of Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev in 2014, also adapted by Posner. Akiva visited the Fountain and joined the company for a fascinating post-show discussion at that time, as well.
Akiva Potok (center) and the company of ‘The Chosen’.
Akiva Potok is an award-winning screenwriter, film producer and cinematographer. His latest film, Haze (2016, cinematography) was released theatrically and is presently in distribution on Netflix. It was hailed by Variety as “Accomplished and energetic” and the LA Times called it a “Fresh take on fraternity life.” It has screened at ten film festivals and at over fifty college campuses stimulating much-needed conversation on the topic of hazing. Akiva’s other films have featured at festivals such as Sundance, Cinequest and The Brooklyn Film Festival as well as many others. Akiva Potok received his MFA from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts in 2003 and presently resides in Beverly Hills, CA.
Born in Surrey, England, Simon Levy grew up in San Francisco. After a youthful foray as a jazz and rock-n-roll musician, he settled into the love of his life, theater. His professional debut as a stage director in 1980 preceded his move to Los Angeles in 1990, where he joined the staff of the Fountain Theatre in 1993. Even though the Fountain proved to be a very comfortable home for his multiple talents, he branched out into teaching playwriting in Chapman University and the renowned UCLA Writer’s Extension program. He has also been site evaluator for the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council, as well as a member of numerous theater and humanitarian organizations. Somehow, squeezed between his many activities, he found time to adapt F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night, and The Last Tycoon to the stage, adapted the anti-Iraq War play What I Heard About Iraq, wrote several original works, and directed many Fountain Theatre award-winning productions.
Simon Levy directs Chaim Potok’s iconic play, THE CHOSEN, opening January 20 at the Fountain Theatre. He discusses his multi-faceted career and his latest Fountain Theatre production.
HOW DID IT HAPPEN THAT YOU BEGAN YOUR ADULT LIFE AS A MUSICIAN AND ENDED UP CHANGING TO THEATER IN COLLEGE?
LEVY: I had a rock band and even played street music as a young man. When I entered college at the age of 21, I decided to study music to become a conductor. After a year of study, I found that I was ahead of most of the other students because of my experience playing on the street; and I started getting bored. To get to my music classes, I would take a short cut through the lobby of the theater, and I started to watch people on stage doing acting exercises. I was intrigued; and, at the urging of my mother, I decided to take an acting class. I found that I had a facility for it; and I loved the sense of community there was among the students in the program, where I was embraced and accepted even though I was a novice. For a while, I double tracked, even venturing into anthropology; but eventually I chose theater.
AS A WRITER, WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR PROUDEST MOMENTS?
What I Heard About Iraq
LEVY: I think I would have to say my adaptation of Eliot Weinberger’s prose-poem about the war in Iraq. It premiered at the Fountain Theatre in 2005/2006 and has gone on to win international awards. It was a cry of the heart for me, a way to make a statement about the idiocy of war. And, of course, my adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby. I had always loved Fitzgerald and what his novel has to say about the American dream. I pursued the rights for years, getting permission along the way to adapt Tender is the Night and The Last Tycoon before the Fitzgerald estate finally gave me the rights to Gatsby. It’s an honor I cherish.
AS A DIRECTOR, WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE PROJECTS?
LEVY: That question always stumps me. Directing a play is like having a love affair or having a whole bunch of children. It’s hard to choose a favorite. With each project, I become obsessed with and immersed in the world of the play and what the playwright has to say through the life of the characters. I’m lucky being part of the Fountain Theatre. I get to pick and choose the plays I want to do. And I only choose projects that I’m in love with or feel I need to give life to. Although it’s hard to choose a favorite, some projects stand out for me, like Master Class and Summer and Smoke and, of course, What I Heard About Iraq. But even as I say that, I feel I’m betraying my other lovers! Every play is a marker along the path of my own life. In a way, each play is somewhat autobiographical, a need to say something specific at that particular time.
Jonathan Arkin and Sam Mandel rehearse ‘The Chosen’
WHY DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH “THE CHOSEN?”
LEVY: I always search for something that reflects on how I’m feeling at the moment. At this particular point in American history, I needed something that had themes of redemption and tolerance and accepting the other as an antidote to all the toxicity we’re consuming each day. I had always loved THE CHOSEN as a novel and knew about Posner’s adaptation of My Name is Asher Lev a few years ago. After reading this adaptation, I knew I’d found the project that could give voice to a lot of the things I’m feeling right now. Also, Posner has done a re-write of the earlier adaptation he did with Chaim Potok, changing the play from five characters to four. We’re honored to be doing the West Coast premiere of it.
THE CHOSEN resonates with me because I see it as a hopeful commentary. The play begins with the Hebrew for “These and these are the words of the Living God.” It’s a phrase that is deeply ingrained in Jewish thought: that two opposing ideas can be true at the same time. Today, it feels like we have lost the ability to respect someone with an opposing view without being hateful or disrespectful towards them. Potok’s story is an illustration of how we can and should be tolerant if we’re to retain our humanity. And he does it with love and humor and an exploration of fundamentally deep ideas. It may be Jewish in its context, but it focuses on bridging universal chasms between opposing worlds – between the modern and the traditional, the secular and the sacred, Zionism and Hasidism, fathers and sons, the head and the heart, and being true to yourself while embracing and respecting the other. We could use a lot more of that in today’s America.
WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS?
LEVY: There are always writing and directing projects I’m toying with or trying to get the rights to, but right now I’m searching for something else that really speaks to me and how I’m feeling. I haven’t found the right one yet. But later this year I will be directing The Immigrant, another Jewish-themed play about acceptance and tolerance, at the Sierra Madre Playhouse. So I guess that’s really on my mind right now.
Friendship, faith and fatherhood. Jonathan Arkin, Alan Blumenfeld, Dor Gvirtsman and Sam Mandel star in TheChosen, the award-winning stage adaptation by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok of Potok’s beloved novel. Simon Levy directs for a January 20 opening at the Fountain Theatre, where performances continue through March 25. The Fountain celebrates the novel’s 50th anniversary (last April) with the West Coast premiere of Posner’s new, streamlined version.
Set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn against the backdrop of World War II, the revelation of the Holocaust and the desperate struggle of Zionism, The Chosen is a moving coming-of-age story about two observant Jewish boys who live only five blocks, yet seemingly worlds, apart. When Danny, son of an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic tzaddik, injures the more traditionally Orthodox Reuven during a baseball game between their rival yeshivas, their two universes collide and a unique friendship is born.
“This powerful story shows how essential it is to consider the views of those who are different from us,” says Levy. “It’s an antidote to the toxicity of our times. Potok beautifully depicts what it means to bridge chasms — between modernity and tradition, the secular and the sacred, Zionism and Hasidism, adolescence and adulthood, friendship and family, fathers and sons, the head and the heart, and the struggle to choose for ourselves, to fight for what we believe in and who we want to be.”
According to Posner, “Through the story of two remarkable boys and their remarkable fathers, Potok asks us to contemplate a world where we chose to fill our lives with greater meaning… and where complexity, understanding, compassion and reconciliation are among our highest values.”
In 1967, Potok burst upon the literary scene with The Chosen, his first novel, sometimes referred to as a “Jewish Catcher in the Rye.” A best-seller, it was nominated for the National Book Award and through the years has become a must-read both in and out of the classroom. In 1992, in celebration of its 25th anniversary, it was republished as a young reader’s classic. A film starring Rod Steiger was released in 1981, and a short-lived off-Broadway musical debuted in 1988. Before his death in 2002, Potok collaborated with Posner on the stage version, which debuted in 1999 at the Arden Theater in Philadelphia, where Posner was a co-founder and resident director. Now, nearly 20 years later, Posner has rewritten the script to create a new version, which premiered last month at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT.
In an interview with the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, Posner explained that he has made a number of changes to the script. “I think it’s now a more dynamic, more streamlined play,” he said. “I’m really very excited about this new version. I think it’s going to be stronger in every way. I love the old version, too but I’m hoping this is even better.”
The creative team for The Chosen includes scenic and props designer DeAnne Millais, lighting designer Donny Jackson, video designer Yee Eun Nam; composer and sound designer Peter Bayne, costume designer Michele Young, hair and makeup designer Linda Michaels and dialect coach Andrea Caban. Rabbi Jim Kaufmanconsults. The production stage manager is Miranda Stewart; technical director is Scott Tuomey; associate producer is James Bennett; and Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor produce for the Fountain Theatre.
The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won over 225 awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include being honored for its acclaimed 25th Anniversary Season in 2015 by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council; the inclusion of the Fountain’s Citizen: An American Lyric in Center Theatre Group’s Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. The Fountain’s most recent production, the world premiere of Building the Wall by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, ran for five months and was named “L.A. hottest ticket” by the Los Angeles Times.