Through November 20ok|
THE CHOSEN Maxine and Robert Seller Theatre/Jewish Repertory Theatre
You can understand why a kid would be angry when another kid deliberately hits a baseball back at the pitcher’s mound and hits him in the eye.
It’s the start of a wonderful friendship.
Reuven Malter is a student at a Brooklyn yeshiva, a Modern Orthodox yeshiva.
Daniel Saunders is a student at a very orthodox yeshiva and the son and heir of the leader of a Hassidic branch of Judaism.
They meet during the baseball game between two Jewish schools when Daniel (Max Goldhirsch) deliberately hits the ball back and puts Reuven in the hospital for treatment of his eye injury.
Young Reuven (Samuel Fesmire) is the son of a yeshiva teacher and vocal Zionist, with health issues.
Daniel is splitting away from his upbringing and moving out into the wider world.
His father, Reb Saunders (a wonderful performance from Tom Loughlin) doesn’t really know how to handle a questing son and winds up encouraging Reuven to become friendly with his son, even with the religious differences.
This is a story from Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen,” turned into a play by Potok and Aaron Posner.
The play is structured unusually, narrated by an older Reuven (Ray Boucher) as he describes the events of four-years, beginning in the World War II year of 1944 and ending in college years far different from the expected.
David Lundy’s David Malter ties much of this together, as the militant Zionist and writer who has helped Daniel find his way around in a secular library, writers like Ernest Hemingway.
Reb Saunders wants to isolate his oldest son, expecting him to lead his flock into the next generation as he has, bringing them from an Eastern European pogrom.
But, he’s old-fashioned in his view of the world and the way he’s the all-knowing father of his group.
Reuven is confused by it and doesn’t understand the relationship between father and son, particularly as they study the Talmud, the thousand-year-old agglomeration of the Bible, the wisdom of the sages and guidance of life, while they don’t speak the rest of the time.
That’s what the Reb does and Daniel is learning to do, every day.
David may explain all of this to Reuven but he doesn’t understand.
The entire story shifts when the war ends and stories of the Holocaust emerge, the Nazi attempt to kill all of the Jews of Europe, millions of them, and millions more of all the people the Third Reich wanted to remove from the continent.
Reb Saunders is staggered by the realization of the horror and sees the Jews of New York as the key to saving Judaism.
David Malter doesn’t agree, seeing the prospective Jewish state of Israel as the key where Jews can defend themselves.
Reuven and Daniel are following it closely, while their career paths are shifting, Reuven to become a rabbi and Daniel to leave behind succeeding his father and shifting to becoming a psychologist.
There is a younger brother we never meet to continue the centuries in the line of rabbis.
“The Chosen” is an ideal play for the Jewish Rep, in its 20th season, a look at history and the clashes inside Jewish community of then and of now.
The events on stage certainly revived knowledge for some in the audience, with occasional bursts of changed breathing.
Director Saul Elkin and assistant director Steve Vaughan have a very strong cast, dominated by Loughlin and Lundy.
The striding and moving Boucher isn’t far behind.
While the show is really about the relationship and the future of young Reuven and Daniel, it’s weakened by Goldhirsch’s vocal projection problems.
He needs college training.
“The Chosen” is a fascinating look at growing up in alternate worlds.
It’s worth seeing.
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