by JAMES FORITANO
BOSTON-According to reliable weatherpersons, my theater-going wife and I missed a frightening outbreak of multiple lightning strikes followed by sudden hail from the lowering skies of Boston prior to heading out for a night of theater. If those weatherpersons had wanted to experience truly frightening weather they should have been front and center with us in the “sheltered bowl” of the Lyric Stage Company of Boston.
Although the “weather” on stage builds slowly and deftly, nothing prepares one for the fireworks that erupt when Asher Lev accuses his devoutly Hasidic father of “esthetic blindness” and dad ripostes with an equally felt accusation of “moral blindness.”
Maybe you haven’t studied the universe of the Hasidim, which, according to the theater program’s glossary, is “a highly religious sect” convinced that “everything one does could be a spiritual act.”
Or maybe you view the vocation of art as avocation one practices with more or less commitment, depending on how “open” one’s Sunday schedule is. By the dramatic moment at which father/son explode in mutual recriminations, everyone in the audience feels the chilling magnitude of this collision.
Asher Lev’s father, played by Joel Colodner, is a craggy planet of rectitude and Hasidic activism as he oscillates between Brooklyn and Russia responding to every need of the Jewish community under the thumb of 1930’s Bolshevik repression.
Asher Lev, played by Jason Schuchman is a chip off the old block, but what a chip! Just as his father is tirelessly passionate in connecting this bad old world with some redemptive spark of divinity, so does his son, Asher, take every opportunity to educate his eye and hand at the alter of art.
Asher Lev’s obvious drive and talent win him likely and unlikely allies: Asher’s mother, on the more likely side; the charismatic leader, or Rebbe, of their Hasidic community on the unlikely side. In between are a host of friends to both factions of this monumental and very topical divide between secular and religious “faiths.”
Jason Schuchman is Asher Lev in his torment and ecstasy. Ann Gottlieb and Joel Colodner, in a Protean acting display, are not only the proud, anguished parents of a prodigy, but play every other part in this epic tale with bracing virtuosity. Funny and sobering, confounding and illuminating, “My Name is Asher Lev” enacts that changeable, perdurable sky under which we all live — moment by moment.
“My Name is Asher Lev” by Aaron Posner; adapted from the novel by Chaim Potok, being performed from February 11 through March 12 at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston. Call (617) 585-5678.