AISLE SAY Berkshires




Adapted by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok
From the novel by Chaim Potok
Directed by Aaron Posner
Starring Adam Heller, Richard Schiff and Richard Topol

at Barrington Stage/Boyd-Quinson Mainstage until August 3

Reviewed by Joel Greenberg


Two teenage boys, Reuven and Daniel, come of age in Chaim Potok’s novel, “The Chosen”. Aaron Posner, who co-authored the stage adaptation with Potok in 1999, has directed the production currently at Barrington Stage, where it runs until August 3. More recently, he also adapted the later Potok novel, “My Name is Asher Lev”, which ran at Barrington Stage two years ago and is currently enjoying a very successful off-Broadway run. The novels share several themes, chief among them what it means to be Jewish in a strikingly secular world and also what sons learn and inherit from their relationships with their fathers. But shared ideas and arguments on the page don’t necessarily translate into living-breathing realities on the stage.


The essential weakness with “The Chosen” is that the characters are never three dimensional in emotional terms. The structure of the play doesn’t help with its central narrator, the grown Reuven Malter, stepping in to tell us what has happened between scenes and also to tell us how, as young men, both he and his best friend, Daniel, felt about their lives. We see far less than we are told through expository explanation, and in the process we are removed from being part of the events that shape the men’s lives.


The play is set in the mid-1940’s and the dramatic forces of a war nearing its end, FDR dying before he can participate in the Allies’ victory, the revelation of the Holocaust and an embattled Palestine becoming the State of Israel are as monumental as one can imagine. And yet, for all this, and maybe even because of it, the events don’t resonate as much more than facts. And especially as it relates to both the Holocaust and a nascent home for the Jews, the best that Posner and Potok have been able to do is have the fathers rant and scream, cry and hector. And even in these moments, we aren’t witness to the fathers’ spontaneous reactions to news of horror or imminent war.


In a final scene, Daniel faces up to the responsibility of telling his father, Reb Saunders, that he plans on a career as a psychologist and not as a rabbi. It is a Big Moment for the young man, one that he has avoided for several years. And he has asked Reuven, his best friend, to be present for what he assumes will be a major confrontation. As he begins to reveal his plans, his father pre-empts the ‘confession’ and says he has known for some time that his son will not be following in his footsteps. It’s a milestone moment in their lives. But as written, it’s rather too easy and diminishes the anticipated climax. Furthermore, the play ends soon after this without a catharsis. The truth has been laid bare, the young men reinforce their love for each other, the fathers’ reactions avoid melodrama and the play ends.


In his adaptation of “My Name is Asher Lev”, Posner maintained the tension of a son whose calling as an artist overrode his parents’ need to have him lead a life as they would have directed it. It’s another play in which a young man is tested by his faith in himself at the same time that he is tested by a strong-willed father. And it’s also a play in which the theme of how one can live an upright Jewish life in a world of many temptations dominates. But the adaptation finds potent emotional roots that move us deeply. In that play’s closing scenes, we witness the young artist’s parents’ shame and humiliation that is unavoidable. Not planned or desired by the artist, himself, it is a moment of pain that, regardless of the story’s specifics, every child and every parent knows.


The disappointment of this adaptation is not in the solid production but due to the fact that Posner and Potok haven’t located a conflict beyond the obvious one of sons battling their much-loved fathers, each in his own way. But there is no drama in their lives, only an oversupply of information. And “The Chosen” remains a fascinating tangle of ideas that stimulate the mind without disturbing the gut.


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