Skip to main content

Review: My Name is Asher Lev

iPhoto caption: Cast of My Name is Asher Lev. Photo by Dahlia Katz
/By / Nov 12, 2017

My Name is Asher Lev

Studio 180 Theatre/Harold Green Jewish Theatre

By Aaron Posner, adapted from the novel by Chaim Potok. Directed by Joel Greenberg. At Toronto Centre for the Arts. Runs until November 26.

Asher Lev (Jonas Chernick) is an observant Hassidic Jew who is also a celebrated artist, painting crucifix scenes and nude women. How he reconciles these two disparate lives, under the shadow of his devout parents, is the struggle at the heart of My Name is Asher Lev.

Throughout the play, Asher constantly spars with his straight-laced, rigid-thinking father (Ron Lea). His mother (Sarah Orenstein) spends most of her time trying to calm the two men and keep them from fighting. As with any good artist, Asher is watchful and sensitive to what this fighting was doing to the family. In one soul-crushing scene, Asher says that in his Jewish tradition there was nothing into which he could pour his anguish. And so he created a painting that depicted that pain. It was devastating, especially to his parents.

Longing, yearning, and giving into obsession drive the story. Director Joel Greenberg guides this production with a sure hand, and it crackles with explosive emotion. Chernick as Asher is consistently firm, committed to standing his ground, whether as a precocious six-year-old, a ten-year-old, or a teenager. Chernick almost slumps when his father berates him. When his mentor compliments his work, he straightens subtly, though his newfound confidence is unmistakable.

Asher addresses the audience in many scenes, standing apart from his family.  Greenberg emphasises Asher’s separateness from his family in those scenes. In a sense Asher is in two worlds: the traditional devout world and the art world. One wonders if he is equally comfortable in both.

Lea and Orenstein both play various parts. Lea is Asher’s father, uncle, and art mentor, as well as the Rabbi,  and he portrays each with a distinct physicality and emotional life. As the father, Lea creates a man frustrated with his son, demanding he follow the well-ordered religious life, and his son not falling into line.

Orenstein is Asher’s devoted mother, a sophisticated art dealer, and a young model who poses nude for Asher. As Asher’s mother, Orenstein is loving and appreciative of Asher’s art, but is concerned when it veers into the troubling area of explicitly Christian imagery. In one scene, Orenstein is buoyant, full-faced and embracing of Asher. In another when his mother is mourning the death of her brother,  she has shifted into a sunken-cheeked, haunted woman who looks like the life has slipped out of her. Lovely work here.

Aaron Posner has taken Chaim Potok’s novel and created a play that illuminates the confined, ordered life of a devout Jew and the wonder and curiosity of an artist whose life has exploded open. The production builds on that beautifully.

For tickets or more information, click here.

To read about how Jonas Chernick connected with his character, the prodigy Asher Lev, click here.

Lynn Slotkin

Lynn Slotkin

Lynn is the former theatre critic for Intermission, and currently writes reviews on her blog The Slotkin Letter. She also does theatre reviews, interviews, and commentary for CIUT Friday Morning (89.5 FM). She was a theatre reviewer for CBC's Here and Now for ten years. On average, she sees 280 shows a year.



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Production photo of The Caged Bird Sings at the Aga Khan Museum. iPhoto caption: Photo by Zeeshan Safdar.

REVIEW: With the help of a daring set, The Caged Bird Sings brings Rumi into the present day

Literal and metaphorical cages abound in this radical adaptation of Rumi’s Masnavi, produced by Modern Times Stage Company and presented in the Aga Khan Museum’s courtyard.

By Liam Donovan
iPhoto caption: Photo by Dahlia Katz.

REVIEW: Age Is a Feeling aches with tenderness and love

Age Is a Feeling is a warm hug for whoever might need it.

By Aisling Murphy
Production shots of the Stratford Festival shows reviewed below: Hedda Gabler, Twelfth Night, and Romeo and Juliet. iPhoto caption: Production shots by David Hou.

REVIEW: Straightforward concepts, stripped-down sets, and strong performances define Stratford’s approach to the canon this year

Throughout Stratford’s productions of Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, and Hedda Gabler, moments of actorly playfulness jolt us into the here and now.

By Liam Donovan
stratford festival iPhoto caption: Production shots by David Hou.

REVIEW: Stratford boasts a flair for the dramatic in two terrific musicals and a spooky take on Shakespeare

All in, this was a very strong opening week for Stratford, but seriously, go see the musicals!

By Aisling Murphy
iPhoto caption: Photo by Dahlia Katz.

REVIEW: The Wrong Bashir is an ode to the hyphenated identities of Canada

Quibbles on the show's comedy aside, The Wrong Bashir will stay with me for a while as a successful ode to hyphenated identities across Canada. 

By Eleanor Yuneun Park
iPhoto caption: Photo of Come Home — The Legend of Daddy Hall by Cylla von Tiedemann.

REVIEW: The Legend of Daddy Hall feels like coming home

Home is not a place, it’s a feeling, and Come Home — The Legend of Daddy Hall feels like I came home. I was taken on a journey watching this play and came out honoured to be a witness to such an incredible story. I encourage you to do the same.

By Aisha Lesley Bentham