Those of us raised in Jewish families from Eastern Europe, who managed to escape before the Holocaust and worked hard to make a better life here, will certainly identify with the struggle between two fathers and their sons in , now brilliantly presented at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood through May 14. Four standout actors, Jonathan Arkin, Alan Blumenfeld, Dor Gvirtsman and Sam Mandel, star in the award-winning stage adaptation by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok, who wrote the beloved novel upon which the play is based.
The Fountain celebrates the novel’s 50th anniversary year with the West Coast premiere of Posner’s new, streamlined version, directed with visionary insight by Simon Levy.
This is set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, against the backdrop of World War II and the horrific revelation of the Holocaust and the desperate struggle of Zionism to create a Jewish homeland in Palestineis a moving, coming-of-age story about two observant Jewish boys who live only five blocks apart, yet seemingly worlds away.
A silent father, an ancient tradition and an unexpectedly important game of baseball forge bonds of lifelong friendship between two Jewish boys in this funny, poignant, timely and timeless father-and-son story about recognition and acceptance of “the other.”
When Danny, son of an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic rabbi, injures the more traditionally Orthodox Reuven during a baseball game between their rival yeshivas, their two universes collide and a unique friendship is born.
“This powerful story shows how essential it is to consider the views of those who are different from us,” director Levy says. “It’s an antidote to the toxicity of our times. Potok beautifully depicts what it means to bridge chasms — between modernity and tradition, the secular and the sacred, Zionism and Hasidism, adolescence and adulthood, friendship and family, fathers and sons, the head and the heart, and the struggle to choose for ourselves, to fight for what we believe in and who we want to be.”
According to Posner, “through the story of two remarkable boys and their remarkable fathers, Potok asks us to contemplate a world where we chose to fill our lives with greater meaning… and where complexity, understanding, compassion and reconciliation are among our highest values.”
Lessons shared in “ The Chosen” have even greater meaning today with the recognition of diversity and acceptance of those different from ourselves in the news on a daily basis.
The ultra-Orthodox father and son are portrayed with a great depth of understanding by Alan Blumenfeld as Reb Saunders and Dor Gvirtsman as his son Danny, with the more modern yet still very traditional duo portrayed thoughtfully and realistically by Jonathan Arkin as David Malter and Sam Mandel as his son Reuven.
The most telling moment when you can really see how differently the boys are raised occurs when the two fathers and sons appear simultaneously on opposite sides of the stage with Danny and his rabbi father studying religious texts but never speaking to each other while Reuven and his father freely express their opinions loudly with each other, each listening intently to the other.
But is one way really better that the other when it comes to raising sons to become intelligent and free-thinking individuals, confident to pursue their dreams? The answer appears to be that although there are two different ways to look at all things, each way can be correct simultaneously.
Along with the four amazing star performers, kudos go to scenic and props designer DeAnne Millais for her incredibly detailed dual sided-set, decorated with aging books, religious artifacts, various photos and items most fathers would surround themselves with while working in a home office. Lighting designer Donny Jackson, video designer Yee Eun Nam, and composer/sound designer Peter Bayne all artfully contribute to the magic moments between father and son, and between the two boys as they develop their lifelong friendship and face challenges thrown at them by their very different upbringings. Costume designer Michele Youngwith hair and makeup designer Linda Michaels and dialect coach Andrea Caban transform the actors into period-perfect characters, right down to Danny’s long curls which seem totally natural.
“The Chosen” runs through May 14 with performances on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $20 to $40; every Monday is Pay-What-You-Want. The multi-award-winning Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Ave. (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. Secure, on-site parking is available for $5. For reservations and information, call 323-663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.