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After “The Chosen”, to be worthy of rest

Final bow

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.

So, when the run is over, we are worthy of rest.

VIDEO: Actors and director from’The Chosen’ share insights on acting, theatre and hit play

Sam Dor radio

Sam Mandel, Dor Gvirtsman with Deborah Kobylt

Director Simon Levy and actors Sam Mandel and Dor Gvirtsman enjoyed chatting about our smash hit production of The Chosen with talk radio/TV host Deborah Kobylt on Wednesday. The acclaimed sold-out run of The Chosen has been extended 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.”

CRITIC’S CHOICE… DEEPLY EMOTIONAL… reminds us to reach across divides” — Los Angeles Times

MAGIC… brilliantly presented… four stand-out actors… directed with visionary insight” — Broadway World

Deborah Kobylt hosts her own online radio/TV talk program, Deborah Kobylt LIVE, every Wednesday at 1pm on Universal Broadcasting Network (UBN).  

More Info/Get Tickets to The Chosen

‘The Chosen’ extended again! Now to June 10th at the Fountain Theatre

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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.

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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

SPLENDID HEARTFELT…  FIRST-RATE” —. Theatre Notes

“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. 

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Akiva Potok, son of ‘The Chosen’ author, joins cast of acclaimed production for Q&A

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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.  

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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.

The sold out run of The Chosen has been extended to May 14th. Get Tickets/More Info

Fountain opens 2018 season with newly revised stage version of Chaim Potok’s ‘The Chosen’

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The cast of ‘The Chosen’ in rehearsal.

Friendship, faith and fatherhood. Jonathan ArkinAlan BlumenfeldDor Gvirtsman and Sam Mandel star in The Chosen, 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 CabanRabbi 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.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda tells how Chaim Potok’s ‘The Chosen’ changed his life

Lin Manuel Miranda

by Lin-Manuel Miranda

The trajectory of my life changed in 8th grade, when I got the following note back on the back of an English essay. My teacher’s name was Dr. Rembert Herbert. This is what he wrote:

“Lin-Manuel—This is an excellent, well-crafted essay. It confirms what I have suspected for some time—that you have been ‘hibernating’ in the back of my class, emerging only occasionally—as when you wrote ‘The Chosen’ musical for class earlier this year. It’s a new semester, almost spring—join us!”

The “Chosen” musical he references was a class project I created as a part of a class assignment. The assignment was to teach three chapters of The Chosen by Chaim Potok, as part of a group. I decided it would be easier to write a song based on each chapter and have our group perform it. Actually, I recorded myself singing all the songs and made my group mates lip-synch my voice, as I had no trust in their musical ability and no way of teaching it to them. Why did I do this? Well, I loved the book. And I loved the way Dr. Herbert taught the book, encouraging us to find the connections and themes for ourselves. I had, in fact, spent most of 8th grade scribbling song lyrics and poems in the back of my classes, earning grades just good enough to get by. I never saw any reason to share these with anyone else.

With this note, Dr. Herbert essentially called me out. He told me, “That creative energy you are burning in the back of the class is what we need IN the class. You can USE that here.” He was also the first person outside of my family to say to me, “You’re a good writer.” He encouraged me to audition and submit my writing to Brick Prison, a student-run theater group at my high school. It was there that I found the energy source that would power the rest of my life.

His encouragement extended far beyond that 8th grade English class. When I began making films in high school, Dr. Herbert would sign permission slips allowing me to film in classrooms, or after school. I began writing short, 20-musicals for Brick Prison, buoyed by my “Chosen” experience in his classroom. My senior year, I earned course credit as his intern, helping him with his 8th grade students. I gained a whole new respect for how much he invested in every student, stepping in if he sensed a drop-off in the quality of their writing, or quietly encouraging the shyest class members with leadership roles.

I still have that 8th grade essay, and Dr. Herbert’s attached note. He is still teaching 8th grade English at Hunter. I am so grateful to him for paying such close attention, for seeing something in me, and urging me to share it. That’s what the best teachers can do. I hope I have made him proud.

See The Chosen at the Fountain Theatre

Fountain donors enjoy exclusive sneak peek at Chaim Potok’s ‘The Chosen’

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The cast of “The Chosen”

A select group of Fountain Theatre donors gathered at the lovely Sherman Oaks home of  Director of Development Barbara Goodhill last night to meet the director and cast of our upcoming production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen. The stage version of the beloved classic of modern Jewish literature opens at the Fountain January 20th.   

The party first noted the Friday evening with Shabbat blessings led by Rabbi Jim Kaufman, followed by a delicious dinner. After welcoming comments by Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs and director Simon Levy, the four-member cast read a selection of short scenes from the script. The actors are Jonathan Arkin, Alan Blumenfeld, Sam Mandel, and Dorian Tayler. 

The invited group of VIP guests included Mrs. Sue and Rabbi James Kaufman, Jacqueline Schultz, Robert and Carol Haymer, Marianne Weil, Harold Shabo, Marsha and Mark Novak.   

Interested in joining our family of Fountain donors? Contact Barbara Goodhill, Development Director at (323) 663-1525 ext. 307 or barbara@fountaintheatre.com.

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First rehearsal for stage version of Potok’s ‘The Chosen’ at the Fountain Theatre

CHOSEN 1st Reh 1First rehearsals are remarkable things. They can be dicey affairs. Actors, newly bound together for the coming months, meet and size each other up for the first time. The director faithfully plots the course ahead. Schedules are planned. Design diagrams are plotted. All of it based on the belief that, through magic and hard work, everything will wondrously come to fruition by Opening Night. How? As confirmed in the movie, Shakespeare in Love, “It’s a mystery.”

There was no mystery at last night’s first rehearsal for our upcoming premiere of The Chosen. Judged by the high quality of the actors, director and design team, this stage version of the acclaimed Chaim Potok novel will be unforgettable for audiences in January.

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Sam Mandel and Alan Blumenfeld

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the most beloved novel about the American Jewish experience of the 20th Century, this acclaimed stage adaption of The Chosen is more timely than ever. Set in Brooklyn, 1944, It is a coming-of-age story of two observant Jewish boys who come from very different homes. When Reuven is injured by Danny during a heated baseball game, a unique friendship is born. As the boys grow to manhood, they are forced to learn important lessons about each other, their fathers and themselves.

Adapted for the stage by Aaron Posner and Chain Potok, The Chosen is directed by Simon Levy. It features  Jonathan Arkin, Alan Blumenfeld, Sam Mandel, and Dorian Tayler. 

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Performances begin January 17, 2018. More info/get tickets

SLIDESHOW: Akiva Potok, Son of ‘Asher Lev’ Author Chaim Potok, Attends Performance of Acclaimed Production at the Fountain Theatre

Akiva Potok with the 'Asher Lev' cast

Akiva Potok with the cast from ‘My Is Asher Lev’

Author’s Son Enjoys The Play And Celebrates His Birthday

We were so pleased and honored to welcome a special guest to a recent performance of our critically acclaimed production of My Name Is Asher Lev at the Fountain. Akiva Potok, son of the novel’s author Chaim Potok,  attended the play, engaged the audience in a post-show discussion following the performance, and celebrated his birthday with the Asher Lev company upstairs in the cafe. It was another unforgettable night at the Fountain.

Akiva Potok is a filmmaker living in Beverly Hills.  After seeing the Fountain production of the stage adaptation of his father’s novel, Akiva commented to director Stephen Sachs: “Indeed it was a wonderful night. Your production of the play cuts deeply into the emotions of that family; I was very moved. The Q&A after was very rewarding and great fun for me. And thank you for letting me celebrate my birthday with your cast and crew.”

The Fountain’s LA premiere of My Name Is Asher Lev, starring Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja and Joel Polis,  has earned wide critical acclaim including being highlighted as Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times. The run has been extended to May 18th.  

Enjoy These Snapshots with Akiva Potok & Company

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My Name Is Asher Lev Now – May 18th (323) 663-1525  MORE 

 

‘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.