“The Chosen” Takes the Stage at The Fountain

by Ernest KearneyThe Chosen, published in 1967, was Chaim Potok’s first and, probably, his best known novel.  Set in New York shortly before the end of World War II it tells the tale of a friendship between two Jewish fifteen-year-olds; Reuven Malter, whose family is observant and modern orthodox, and Daniel Saunders, whose father is a Rebbe of the ultra-conservative Hasidic sect.

It is set against a six-year backdrop that formed the most momentous period in modern Judaism’s history, from the horrific disclosures of the Nazi Holocaust in Europe to the founding of the state of Israel.

The Chosen-The Fountain Theatre

Dor Gvirtsman and Sam Mandel (Photo by Ed Krieger – Courtesy of Fountain Theatre)

The book gave many Americans their first glimpse into the rivalry and differences among the diverse sects of the Jewish faith and into the world of Hasidism, whose views are so radical that they opposed the formation of Israel as a secular nation; the 18th century revival movement whose followers are so apparent in the Los Angeles Fairfax District in their rekelech (long black jackets) and shtreimels (the round fur hats worn generally by married men).

The appeal of Potok’s narrative stretches beyond the barriers of faith, in telling the story of two sons who find themselves outside of the world envisioned for them by their fathers: a struggle both ageless and universal.

The Fountain Theatre is always a hallmark of superbly staged shows but they seemed to have mastered the presentation of a few select writers.  One is certainly the South African playwright Athol Fugard whose high regard for the Fountain is well known, and another is Potok.

Adapted for the stage by Potok and Aaron Posner, the script captures all of the heart and heartache of the novel as Daniel (Dor Gvirtsman) and Reuven (Sam Mandel) begin a friendship over a fiercely played ball game that evolves into the personal foundation upon which each erects his individuality.

We see only our reflections in mirrors; in friends we can see ourselves.

As Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote,

The friend within the man is that part of him which belongs to you and opens to you a door which never, perhaps, is opened to another.

Jonathan Arkin and Alan Blumenfeld portray the two fathers whose love each boy desires and whose wrath the manhood of each tempts.  As ensembles go, the worth of this quartet is slightly beneath the crown jewels of England.

Produced by Stephen Sachs, Deborah Culver and the ever-effervescent James Bennett, the production is a stunning display of craft and professionalism; with DeAnne Millais’ scenic design, Donny Jackson’s lighting design, costumes by Michele Young, Peter Bayne’s sound design and Linda Michaels make-up artistry with hair (least we forgot those “payots”) all contributing to a stellar staging.

Director Simon Levy succeeds in that rarest of feats, making two hours fly by and leaving his audience wishing for a third.  Maybe even a fourth.

The Chosen-The Fountain Theatre

Dor Gvirtsman and Alan Blumenfeld (Photo by Ed Krieger – Courtesy of Fountain Theatre)

The Chosen is an evening of theatre at its finest that celebrates the best of the faithful and their faiths, which only dims when compared to the reality of intolerance that one sees displayed in such documentaries as Trembling Before G-D, The Spirit of Things, Sacred Sperm, and the recent One of Us.

The strength of Potok’s work is the triumph of love over faith. Sadly, that is rarely the case in this world of ours where fundamentalism, in any form, is a prison to the human soul; as the tragedy of Faigy Mayer gives a woeful testimonial to.

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The Chosen on stage now at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood, opened January 20 and runs thru the month of March. For complete information click HERE.

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An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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