Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 2, 2019

REVIEW: Playhouse on Park, My Name is Asher Lev

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
through May 12, 2019
by Barbara Stroup

Although his name secures him to a family and its legacy, and although his parents dote on him, Asher Lev (the child) is confused. He seems to have been born with a pencil in his hand and feels compelled to draw, but his Hasidic parents have other plans for his free time. Parental expectations conflict with his need for self-expression-which is as real as hunger-and it is this drive that characterizes his childhood.

Photo by Meredith Longo
Narrated directly to the audience as a memoir by the title character (played winningly by Jordan Sobel), we see the continuing artistic search for self-definition and identity. Asher struggles not only with parental authority and filial obedience, but also with the conflict between creative expression and orthodoxy, between art and inherited cultural paradigms. “How could lines on a paper help anything?” he asks, as he continues drawing. He learns, he progresses, and his ability becomes obvious to a well-chosen mentor, but during it all he carries the weight of parental disapproval and conflict.

Staged sparingly, the three Playhouse on Park actors effectively manage both their changing roles and choreographed set changes. On stage throughout the 90-minute play, Jordan Sobel has a challenging role. The actor captures the character’s certainty about his destiny as well as his need to resist his father’s autocracy, without overplaying the latter. Dan Shor plays Asher’s father as well as a variety of other male characters with convincing alacrity. The beautifully expressive Stefanie Londino embodies the suffering that only a mother could have as she watches these two in conflict. There is no doubt of her immense love for her son. Londino also reappears in dramatically different smaller parts, handling each without a hint of the others. (The costume department went a little overboard with a flared taffeta dress that seemed momentarily to engulf the stage).

A lighting effect in the play’s conclusive scene creates gasps for its effectiveness, and the play’s resolution lets Asher find his identity and continue his art. With a will and a genius like his, there was little doubt about the choices he would make for his journey through life. “My Name is Asher Lev” is a well-written play, and works well in the context of theatre-in-the-round. Playhouse on Park continues to choose pieces that provoke us to contemplate important issues even after we leave the theatre.