By Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

Theatrical Outfit is currently holding forth at the Balzer Theater downtown with a three-character gem of a play called “My Name Is Asher Lev,” running through September 16.

Playwright Aaron Posner has expertly adapted Chaim Potok’s 1972 novel about a conflict between art and religion set in post World War II Brooklyn.  Director Mira Hirsch writes, “Asher Lev is an artist.  He is also a Hasidic Jew.  While these two characteristics appear to be in opposition to one another, their joint residency in one person is a sheer impossibility.”  Except that it’s not impossible, because—presto—we have young Asher (Nick Arapoglou), who’s an “observant Jew,” as he likes to point out, and also a truly gifted artist.

Artists by nature are individualists, right?  They must be free to heed the call of their giftedness however they see fit.  Easy to say, not always so easy to implement.

Asher’s father (Brian Kurlander) is horrified to find his son painting crucifixions and pietàs and female nudes.  He sends Asher to Jacob, who becomes Asher’s artistic mentor; he recognizes his talent and encourages him to go even further.  Aryeh, Asher’s father, must report to the Rebbe, a formidable but wise man.  The astonishing Mr. Kurlander plays all the adult male roles; he gets the Streep award for amazing transformations (I’m not being facetious).

Also quite wonderful is Lane Carlock as Rivkeh, Asher’s mother—and all the adult female roles.  She, too, is versatile and quite moving, especially after the death of her brother.

But the heart and soul of the play is the portrait of the artist as a young man (thank you, Mr. Joyce); and that would be Mr. Arapoglou’s Asher.  The actor functions as both narrator and character.  He is not offstage for the entire 90 minutes of the play.  He gives an intense, totally believable performance; it’s fascinating to watch Asher grapple with this “thing” he’s been given—partly a curse, maybe, but a gift that must be expressed. That’s thrilling stuff; and Mr. Arapoglou, already an award-winning actor in musical comedy, reveals hitherto unexpected range to his talent.

I have a friend who likes to chide me for saying,”There are no weak links here” too often; but with the actors in “My Name Is Asher Lev,” that is an understatement.  You could have heard a pin drop the night I saw the play.

The play raises some compelling questions for the artist and his art:  Is it truthful?  How are you spending your time (as an artist)?  Most poignant of all to me is the matter of courage:  Real artists have to have it; it is demanded.

Meticulously directed and acted, this play is going to win awards.  You’ll kick yourself if you miss it, so my advice is—don’t.

For tickets and information, visit theatricaloutfit.org.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.