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The Chosen

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What was it about Chaim Potok’s novel The Chosen that so captivated my 9-year-old Catholic schoolboy self? There was the exotic background. World War II era Brooklyn was as foreign to me as Istanbul. There was the equally alien central pillar of Judaism which permeated every page. But, mostly, there was love. Love between Reuven and Danny. Love between the boys and their respective fathers. Love of Torah. Love of reading. Love of learning. It stirred me as no previous novel had and held me spellbound.

I find myself equally transported by the exquisite and heartfelt production of Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok’s adaptation of the novel playing at the Fountain Theatre. Under the precise and emotionally expansive direction of Simon Levy, this seemingly insular story becomes a universal paean to the values of friendship, family, and identity.

Reuven Malter (Sam Mandel) and Danny Saunders (Dor Gvirtsman) have grown up 5 blocks away from each other but have never met. They live in different worlds. Danny’s father, Reb Saunders (Alan Blumenfeld), is a charismatic Hasidic tzaddik. Danny is being groomed to take his place. Reuven is devout, but his Modern Orthodox upbringing is close to heretical in Danny’s eyes.

The boys meet during a fateful baseball game in which Danny wounds Reuven. From this inauspicious beginning, the boys form a special friendship which will resonate deeply in both their lives.

Reb Saunders is raising Danny in “Silence.” He speaks to him only in religious discussions. Danny’s restless and brilliant mind has driven him to the public library where Reuven’s father, David Malter (Jonathan Arkin), gives the boy reading lists which quickly take him from Dostoyevsky to Freud.

The end of the war brings brief elation followed by the horrifying revelation of the concentration camps. The post-war years also bring a new energy to Zionism and the idea of a Jewish homeland in Israel. David is a leader in the American Zionist movement. This pushes Reb Saunders too far, and he forbids Danny to see or speak to Reuven. Suddenly the boys are also living in “Silence.”

Posner’s recent revision of the script tightens the focus to the two boys and their fathers. This minimizes the background color of the neighborhood and, especially, the omnipresence of the War. But it greatly enhances the intimacy, as well as the emotional connection to the characters.

The performances are all superb. Mandel’s gravel-voiced Reuven is a straightforward Brooklynite who narrates in a convincingly authentic accent. But he also digs beneath the surface to reveal Reuven’s fears and disappointments. Gvirtsman’s otherworldly Danny is all febrile intellect and frustration when we meet him. His thirst for intellectual stimulation and his unconscious yearning for normalcy are soothed by his relationship with Reuven and his father. Gvirtsman ably navigates Danny’s growth from awkward adolescent to an assured young man who will break tradition to make his own decisions.

Reb Saunders is the play’s showiest role and whether exalting with his congregation, denouncing Zionism, or arguing scripture, Blumenfeld’s performance is appropriately monumental. But he carefully grounds every moment in reality. Watch his devastation at the news of the Holocaust. It is Lear-like in its intensity. Arkin’s hard-working David Malter is built on a subtler frame, but his quiet compassion is just as powerful and, perhaps, even more important to the boys. He always has time for a kind word or carefully considered advice, and his love for both boys provides a safe harbor for Danny and Reuven in troubled times.

The show has been extended and is adding an extra performance night, so you have no excuse to miss this exceptional production. But bring a handkerchief.

Fountain Theatre    January 20 – May 14, 2018    www.FountainTheatre.com

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.