The Thrill of Creation: Chaim Potok's Asher Lev Goes From Page to Stage

By Jonathan Mandell
09 Nov 2012

Ari Brand
As a child, Posner identified with a different Potok novel, "The Chosen." Thirteen years ago he collaborated with the author in adapting that work for the stage. "The Chosen has [since] had 40 professional productions," Posner says. The playwright had already begun exploring a second collaboration when Chaim Potok died, in 2002, at the age of 73. Debuting in 2008, My Name is Asher Lev has been produced 15 times, by the playwright's count, most recently at the Long Wharf in New Haven, directed by Gordon Edelstein. Edelstein is directing the New York premiere as well, with a cast that stars Ari Brand, who played Asher in New Haven and is joined by Mark Nelson and Jenny Bacon as his parents and several other characters.

To prepare the actors for their roles, Edelstein took them on a tour of Hasidic Crown Heights, including a matzoh factory. "It was a tour I had taken in eighth grade," says Brand, who as Asher plays both the narrator and himself, ages six to 22 years old. But Brand at first struggled to understand what Asher was going through. "I've always been supported in my art," he says. It wasn't until the play was in previews at the Long Wharf that he realized his own father, Natan Brand — who died when Ari was a young child — had a remarkably similar story: Natan had been a piano prodigy in Jerusalem, a gift unappreciated by Ari's heart-surgeon grandfather.

Suddenly, Brand says, it all clicked. "As working, and sometimes non-working, actors, we're focused on paying the bills," Brand says. "It's only in the rehearsal room and on the stage that we can remember why we do all this. Because of the art. Because of the thrill of creation."

(This feature appears in the November 2012 Off-Broadway issue of Playbill magazine.)

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