The desert’s most intimate and quality Equity theatre CV REP, launched its 6th season with the insightful, drama “The Chosen” adapted by Aaron Posner and the late Chaim Potok, based on Potok’s novel of the same name.
Directed with intelligence and sensitivity by CV REP’s founding artistic director Ron Celona, the poignant coming of-age-story between two young Jewish teenagers and the cultural divide on the part of each father’s religious position is a key element in this thoughtful and heart-warming production. Celona is an award-wining director with tons of experience, and I believe this may be one of his finest directorial efforts.
The story follows young Reuven Malter (Drew Feldman) and his friend Danny Saunders (Daniel Seigerman) as they grow up the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, in the 1940s. The action takes place over a period of six years, beginning in 1941 when the two are fifteen years old. The theatrical convention of a narrator is employed whenever flash-back scenes are required for clarity and to keep the ebb and flow of the text ongoing. David Natale, opens the play as the adult Reuven; setting the story in motion and acting as our narrator/tour guide throughout the play. It’s a flawless performance.
Drew Feldman as young Reuven, a mathematics whiz, may be a young actor (23) but his performance speaks volumes for his interpretation of a loyal but conflicted friend when “the rubber meets the road” and it comes time to honoring one’s parental advice versus friendship. It’s a sensitive and compelling performance. And the same can be said of Daniel Seigerman’s Danny Saunders’ portrayal. Danny has a photographic memory and harbors a secret desire to become a psychologist, like his hero Sigmund Freud. In Danny’s case, the pressure to be and become his own person vs. what his Hasidic, traditionalist “tzadik” father expects – that of following in the tradition that the oldest son must become the congregation’s spiritual leader – has been gnawing at him for two years. It’s a career path Danny does not want to follow. Seigman’s understated performance vs. Feldman’s outgoing portrayal makes their scenes together most compelling, relevant, and entertaining.
Dennis Gersten as David Malter, Reuven’s father, is a marvel of an actor completely in charge of his character who knows and understands how to modulate and orchestrate his delivery of Potok’s powerful imagery and meaningful text with the skill of a Symphony musical conductor. His powerful radio speech endorsing the movement of creating a Jewish state in Palestine is rousing and inspirational which is in contrast to his thoughtful and quiet scholarly demeanor at home with his son.
David Light as Reb Saunders, Danny’s intimidating father delivers an achingly nuanced spot-on portrayal as the religious leader of the Orthodox Hasidic community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Light wears his deeply held emotions on his sleeve. And during his religious instruction sessions with Reuven and Danny, as all three read from the Talmud, one gets a peek into the dual personality of an old man leading his traditionally religious community and that of a father raising a son in a very secular and alien culture. Reb Saunders is opposed even to talk of a permanent homeland for Jews in Palestine; considering such a movement to be heretical. He goes so far as to forbid his son Danny from seeing or talking to Reuven or his father thus driving a wedge between the two friends. Their relationship is definitely affected but not their friendship. One can feel real empathy for the traditionalists and the Reb Saunders’ of this world. After all, as Kermit says, “It’s not easy being green.”
“The Chosen” swoops into the audience’s heart and neatly captures the essence of Potok’s affecting human message of hope. Even in a diverse and secular America of 310 million citizens, every culture and every religion has the ability to leave the “old world” of European Jewry behind and blend into the “new world” of America, and still remain true to one’s Jewish traditions.
Celona cleverly blends the melodramatic elements of the story with the realistic and textured narrative threads which offer this outstanding cast the opportunity to shine when their individual moments arrive. The set created by resident set designer Jimmy Cuomo is a creative marvel of what can be accomplished on a small stage without compromising the dramatic intention of the playwrights, or the personal vision of director Celona.
“The Chosen” is a potently acted impressive piece of work that needs to be seen. It runs at CV REP, Rancho Mirage, through November 16, 2014. Don’t miss it!