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‘My Name Is Asher Lev’ at the Fountain Theatre is “an unforgettable experience. Don’t miss it.”

Joel Polis and Jason Karasev

Joel Polis and Jason Karasev

Thought-provoking, unpredictable and wholly magnificent

by David C. Nichols

Saw My Name is Asher Lev last night. Will likely be thinking about it for quite some time to come. The Fountain Theatre continues its ongoing roll with this potent three-hander based on Chaim Potok’s best seller about an Orthodox Jew in post-WWII Brooklyn torn between Hasidic tradition and his nascent artistic gifts. That last aspect typifies the production, which is, even by this venue’s high standards, thought-provoking, unpredictable and wholly magnificent. 

Stephen Sachs has done meaningful direction before, and often. Yet the emotional acuity, transitional clarity and specificity of detail he mines from Aaron Posner’s affecting adaptation is at an elevated level from anything previous seen. Design credits are refined and resourceful across the board: Jeff McLaughlin’s symbolist set, Ric Zimmerman’s pin-point lighting plot, Shon LeBlanc’s usual spot-on wardrobe choices, Diane Martinous’ wigs — it’s ALWAYS about the hair — and Lindsay Jones’ evocative music and sound cues add immeasurably to an unusually engrossing and polished execution.

Speaking of which, the cast is exceptional — seamlessly vivid, nuanced and committed. Jason Karasev, so memorable in Tape at the Fringe a couple of cycles back, is heartbreaking as the title character at various ages, surmounting the pitfalls of playing so wide a range with faultless technique, so invested that a late-inning embarrassed moment finds him blushing, just as the character would.

Joel Polis has long been a local exemplar of character acting, so proficiency is expected. However, his assumption of Asher’s father, rabbi, uncle, artistic mentor, etc. literally seems like a different person with each entrance, from subtleties of dialect to physical posture and so forth. An astonishing turn, even from this actor.

And the ever-remarkable Anna Khaja, whose name this observer would enjoy merely seeing in print, reaches mesmeric, even preternatural depths inhabiting respectively, Asher’s mother, first patroness and the artist’s model who elicits the aforementioned blush, her inwardly shifting reactions and light-to-dark-and-back modulations defying criticism — a transcendent performance.

Which essentially describes the whole deeply touching show. It’s an early bar-setter for the theatrical year, an unprepossessing triumph for all concerned and an unforgettable experience. Don’t. Miss. It.

David C. Nichols is a freelance theater reviewer at the Los Angeles Times.

 

 

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: Production Design Meeting for ‘My Name is Asher Lev’ at the Fountain Theatre

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The design and production team for our upcoming Los Angeles Premiere of My Name Is Asher Lev gathered on Saturday to discuss the many design elements needed for the production. It’s going to be a beautiful and powerful production with a fluid, quick-moving mixture of set, lights, music and sound supporting three talented actors who play a variety of characters.

At Saturday’s production meeting, director Stephen Sachs spoke to the designers and shared his vision for the play. Producer Simon Levy led the meeting with Technical Director Scott Tuomey. Adding their artistic contributions were set designer Jeff McLaughlin, lighting designer Ric Zimmerman, costume designer Shon LeBlanc, props designer Misty Carlisle, and production stage manager Terri Roberts. Composer/sound designer Lindsay Jones was out-of-town but a few samples of his gorgeous original music were played.      

Based on the bestselling novel by Chaim Potok, My Name Is Asher Lev is the powerful coming-of-age story of a Jewish boy’s struggle to become an artist against the will of his Orthodox parents, community and tradition. Asher Lev could be the next Picasso. But as the son of devout Hasidic parents who struggle to understand the value of his art, Asher Lev is torn apart. He knows he is commanded to honor his parents, but he must also be true to himself. As we glimpse the pieces of Asher’s painful past, we witness events that climax in his most famous work and the decision that will change his life forever. A recent hit Off-Broadway and winner of the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play and the John Gassner Award.

The Los Angeles Premiere at the Fountain theatre stars Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja, and Joel Polis

Snapshots from the ‘Asher Lev’ Design Meeting

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My Name is Asher Lev Feb 15 – April 19 (323) 663-1525  MORE