My Name Is Asher Lev

1/4
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Westside Theatre. By Aaron Posner. Dir. Gordon Edelstein. With Ari Brand, Mark Nelson, Jenny Bacon. 1hr 35mins. No intermission.
2/4
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Westside Theatre. By Aaron Posner. Dir. Gordon Edelstein. With Ari Brand, Mark Nelson, Jenny Bacon. 1hr 35mins. No intermission.
3/4
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Westside Theatre. By Aaron Posner. Dir. Gordon Edelstein. With Ari Brand, Mark Nelson, Jenny Bacon. 1hr 35mins. No intermission.
4/4
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Westside Theatre. By Aaron Posner. Dir. Gordon Edelstein. With Ari Brand, Mark Nelson, Jenny Bacon. 1hr 35mins. No intermission.
Westside Theatre, Hell's Kitchen Thursday March 21 2013 20:00
Buy tickets

In Hebrew, the word lev means "heart," and the name Asher means "blessed" or "happy." Those do not go together easily for the title character of Aaron Posner’s starkly moving family drama, adapted from Chaim Potok’s 1972 novel. Asher (Ari Brand) is an artistic prodigy whose (God-given?) talent conflicts with the values of his Hasidic Jewish upbringing in the 1950s. But he has little choice; there is “a scream in him fighting to get out,” and although Asher remains an observant Jew, the “goyishe and pagan” world of art—with its long line of nudes and crucifixions—tugs him toward apostasy. As his mentor informs him from the start: “You are entering a religion called painting.”

My Name Is Asher Lev is often blunt. It relies heavily on narration, and its treatment of artistic individuation is not unfamiliar; Asher’s internal conflict might be more resonant if his drive were not so frequently cast in terms of undeniable genius. (Wisely, the play lets the audience project its own ideas of his art onto blank canvases and pages.) But Gordon Edelstein’s production gives the play a spare, forceful elegance. Brand’s Asher conveys a convincing balance of confusion and determination; Mark Nelson brings graceful depth to his multiple roles (including Asher’s stern father, candid teacher and world-weathered rabbi). And Jenny Bacon plays Asher’s nervous mother with piercing tenderness and sorrow. Perhaps even more than her son, she is caught between the two worlds Asher tries to straddle, and his talent becomes her cross to bear.—Adam Feldman

[Note: The role of Asher's mother is now played by Ilana Levine.]

Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam

Discounted tickets are available through Time Out Offers until July 14, 2013.

Venue name: Westside Theatre
Address: 407 W 43rd St
New York

Cross street: between Ninth and Tenth Aves
Transport: Subway: A, C, E to 42nd St–Port Authority
Price: $36–$79, premium $110
Event phone: 212-239-6200
Event website: http://asherlevtheplay.com