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Theater Review: 'My Name is Asher Lev' -- 2 stars

Ari Brand and Jenny Bacon in "My Name

Ari Brand and Jenny Bacon in "My Name is Asher Lev" Credit: Ari Brand and Jenny Bacon in "My Name is Asher Lev"

My Name is Asher Lev
2 stars

"My Name is Asher Lev," adapted from Chaim Potok's 1972 novel of the same title, can be summed up as a slight variation on the classic film "The Jazz Singer" and its premise of the talented Jewish boy who follows his artistic impulses in defiance of pressure from his family and the religious community.

Asher (Ari Brand) is seen growing up in an Orthodox Jewish family in 1950s Brooklyn, with an extremely devout father (Mark Nelson) who travels the world in service of a local religious leader, and an extremely high-strung mother (Jenny Bacon), who was badly shaken by her brother's untimely death.

At first, Asher's parents approach his talent for painting with trepidation and shame, especially the boy's fascination with drawing the crucifixion of Jesus. In time, he is sent to study with a well-known Jewish artist (also played by Nelson) and is eventually forced to permanently leave his home once his celebrity becomes too much for his community to bear.

Complimented by a small unit set, Aaron Posner's spare three-actor adaptation, which runs about 95 minutes without intermission, is about as straightforward as it gets. About half of the show consists of the novel being recited to the audience by Brand, which makes it feel like a one-man show with a few other scenes thrown in for good measure.

While "Asher Lev" is hardly the most innovative play of the season and the monologue portions can be repetitive, it is likely to find an audience among those looking for a family-oriented nonmusical that is traditional and non-challenging.

Brand brings an earnest quality to the title role, but his performance never varies even as his character grows up. Bacon is a bit too hysterical at times, to the point of being off-putting, while Nelson conveys his character's staunch nature with convincing detail.

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