The Fountain Theater in Los Angeles presented a gripping performance of the Aaron Posner play, “My Name is Asher Lev.” It is the story of a Hasidic Jewish teenage boy in Brooklyn post World War II determined to be a painter in the face of his father’s religious disapproval. Adapted for the stage based on a novel by Chiam Potok, the script lays out plenty of opportunities for actors to flex their artistic muscles. The ensemble cast of three did just that.
Anna Khaja as Rivkeh, Asher’s mother, and Joel Polis as Aryeh, the father, beautifully explored the love, pride, and hurt that follow growth and change in family members. Each member of the Lev family evolves through the struggle to reconcile individuality with family and religious identity. Khaja and Polis seized key moments in the story to bring Rivkeh and Aryeh vividly to life. Love for their characters permeated their performances and made the underlying tension in the family more potent and relatable. I felt for each of the characters because I came to love them as the performers did.
As truly remarkable as Khaja and Polis were, it was Jason Karasev as Asher Lev who captured our attention from the first moment of the play and held it firmly in his hand until he released it back to us at the final fade to black. He helped us relive Asher’s life with all of Asher’s conviction, power, and obsession for truth-telling. It was Asher’s story, and Karasev stood out of the way and let Asher do the talking. Asher’s fight for survival, insisting on the wholeness he felt could only come from his art, will likely be recognizable to passionate artists of all types. With natural pacing, and boundless physical and psychic energy, he commanded the stage, set and props, propelling the story forward. This made it all the more compelling in those moments where emotion paralyzed Asher and he could only stand and tell us because showing us might be too much. And near the end of the show, just when you though he had squeezed out of Asher and the audience all our remaining emotion, Karasev and the cast together hit us with one last round. And then they released us.
I highly recommend this show* for the performances. Khaja, Polis and Karasev were magnificent throughout. The author does take some shortcuts in order to fit some of the story into a 2 hour show, but that didn’t detract from the overall experience. The actors took advantage of the story setups that resulted and delivered compelling moment after moment that made for a beautiful and worthwhile show. And based on what I saw in this show, I hope we will be seeing more performances with Jason Karasev.
*Be advised that there is some partial nudity in the show.