Parents believe they know what is best for their children. Sometimes, they are right. Other times, the child knows what is best even if it can be in conflict with the family’s values. The challenge is not just to find the middle ground but to also have the love and faith that the child can find its path without straying too far.
“My Name is Asher Lev” is a moving, compelling story about reconciling faith, family, and personal passions. Asher Lev (David Reale) is a young Hasidic Jew who has a talent and drive for painting. He is compelled to draw the world around him including his loving but troubled mother and his strict and absent father. As he grows older, his love for drawing takes time away from his studies, much to the consternation of his father. To Asher’s parents, art is a distraction from his duty to his faith and family.
But Asher is determined. He receives unexpected support from the rabbi and training from another artist, who is also Jewish (but not as observant). Asher learns and improves his skills. His paintings are quickly sold and he becomes famous. However, he struggles to keep one foot in his identity as an observant Jew and his all-consuming passion for painting the world as he sees it. The results are gut-wrenching, surprising, and ultimately, filled with love.
Mr. Reale has the tricky job of telling Asher’s story to the audience as well as playing the character at various stages in his life. He is marvelous, full of conviction tempered by empathy. Ellen David is magnificent as a mother filled with hope for her son but is damaged by family tragedy. As the perplexed father, Alex Poch-Goldin is wonderful. He captures paternal authority without being autocratic.
Ms. David and Mr. Poch-Goldin also play other characters as they come and go in Asher’s story. In spite of a small cast playing multiple characters, the play never lags or staggers. The scenes move effortlessly. The set is one open room that resembles a large studio but the furnishings double as secondary props. The white walls and the windows become symbolic to Asher’s view of his family and the world.
The parents’ role is to teach their child to be a loving member of the family, their community, and the world. It can mean letting the child go; not just physically but releasing expectations and accepting who they are becoming. Love is hard but it can be freeing.
Photo credit Andree Lanthier.
“My Name Is Asher Lev”: Presented by Segal Centre and Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. Playwright Aaron Posner. Adapted from the novel “My Name is Asher Lev” by Chaim Potok. Directed by Steven Schipper. Show continues until October 2, at Segal Centre, 5170 Chemin de la Côte-Ste-Catherine, Montreal. Tickets $60 to $24.50. Call the box office 514-739-7944 or go to www.segalcentre.org