The Phoenix Theatre’s Frank & Katrina Basile stage is current home to “My Name is Asher Lev.” The play, based on the Chaim Potok’s novel of the same name, explores the meaning of religion and art in a Hasidic Brooklyn community in the ‘50s.
Asher Lev is raised by his troubled mother, who was scarred by the unexpected death of her sibling, and his temperamental father. At a young age Asher shows a natural proclivity for painting and wants to become an artist. His parents are at a loss for how to respond to their son’s gift. His father is particularly baffled by his son’s desire to draw the world around him and is ashamed that he can’t let go of his “hobby.”
John Michael Goodson plays Asher from age 6 to adulthood with a giddy childishness at moments and an emotionally raw vulnerability at others. He’s tortured and confused by his compulsion to draw. First he questions the world with a child’s innocence, later he remains baffled by the same questions that haunted his youth.
Bill Simmons plays all of the men in the show (except Asher), including Asher’s father and his mentor, Jacob Kahn. He swings between anger and parental pride in an instant and brings a wonderful passion to the scenes between Kahn and Asher. Kahn is a fellow artist who teaches Asher how to embrace his emotions while creating artwork.
One of my favorite aspects of the show is the fact that it could have used nudity or language to increase the shock factor, but instead it relies on the power of Asher’s struggle. Because of this, the issues of the show are able to shine without being overshadowed by unnecessary elements. Even the controversial paintings Lev creates are shown only as empty frames. This forces the audience to see the painting only in their imaginations, which makes the impact much more powerful.
It’s a wonderful show that addresses a dozen important issues; religion, art, responsibility to your community vs. responsibility to create as an artist and so much more. You’ll be mulling over the characters’ decisions long after the final bow.
Don't Miss the Show
For more information about the Phoenix Theatre, visit www.phoenixtheatre.org. The theater is located at 749 N. Park Ave., Indianapolis, just off Massachusetts Ave.
Performances: The show runs until Nov. 21 and offers four performances a week. Thursdays begin at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturdays begin at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Tickets: To purchase tickets, call (317) 635-PLAY (7529). Prices range from $15 to $20.
Photos Courtesy of the Phoenix Theatre