In 2013, its New York production took home the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play, as well as the John Gassner Playwriting Award. And next month, Sydney audiences will have the opportunity to see My Name is Asher Lev for a limited season at Darlinghurst’s Eternity Playhouse.
Adapted for the stage by Aaron Posner, My Name is Asher Lev is based on a novel by American author and rabbi, Chaim Potok. It tells the story of a young Hasidic Jew growing up in Brooklyn, New York in the late 1940s. He demonstrates impressive artistic talent, but it causes conflict between Asher and not only his strict sect, but also with his parents. Endeavours on his part to pursue his gift will require him to pay a terrible price.
Directed by Moira Blumenthal, the Sydney season of My Name is Asher Lev will star Annie Byron, Tim McGarry and John O’Hare.
John O’Hare first read Potok’s novel as a teenager.
“In actual fact, it had an effect on my life and some of the choices I made,” he tells Theatre People.
“It’s not necessarily the book that motivated me to make the choices I made, but it certainly was an affirmation to continue my dream [and] my passion to be an artist.”
O’Hare grew up in suburban Perth, and saw few opportunities around him to be an artist.
“I was expected to go to university and become an accountant, a teacher or something like that. But I had this dream and this desire to be an artist.”
His own father engaged in artistic pursuits, but that wasn’t on a full-time basis.
“He decided to bring up a family and be a businessman, and be a part-time artist,” O’Hare says.
“I thought I was going to go along the same track.”
O’Hare has thoroughly enjoyed the experience of re-visiting the story of Asher Lev in preparing for the upcoming production of Posner’s play.
“I’m an amateur theologian and philosopher, so I love the philosophy of Chaim Potok,” he says.
“He was an incredible theologian… He was so well read and he infuses so many of my favourite philosophers into his work and into his writings.”
Also discussing the author, O’Hare’s co-star, Annie Byron, comments: “Chaim Potok is particularly interested… in really deep and essential conflicts – how to deal with those. So in this, it’s art and religion, but he deals with similar sorts of conflicts in other works. They come back down to really basic human questions, which is what makes the work universal.”
The richness of the text presents a challenge for the actors in their rehearsal process.
“You’re really working very hard to get a handle on the material so that you can communicate the story,” O’Hare says.
“We’re concentrating on the story and the relationships, but we all know that there’s so much more, and you want to plumb those depths because you can just feel what’s there… That’s the struggle in the journey.”
So what do the actors hope audience members will take away from their experience seeing My Name is Asher Lev?
Byron hopes those who attend will be provoked to think about the questions it raises.
“If we can engage and entertain enough, hopefully that will be thought-provoking and intellectually and emotionally stimulating for the audiences,” she says.
When asked the same question, O’Hare says: “One of the things for me is if you’re a teenager and you’re watching this, if you have a passion and if you feel you’ve got a gift, follow your bliss. Hang on tightly and let go lightly, if you have to, but follow your dream.
“And if you’re a parent, if your little boy or girl’s got a gift, nurture that gift. Allow them to grow, allow them to flourish, allow them to discover the world themselves through their gift and encourage that.
“I would love maybe one or two people to take that away.”
MY NAME IS ASHER LEV
Venue: Eternity Playhouse, 39 Burton Street, Darlinghurst
Season: Sunday 8 – Sunday 29 May 2016
Evenings: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday 7.30pm
Matinees: Wednesday and Thursday at 11.00am; Sunday at 2.00pm
Prices: From $34 to $46