Review by J. A. Di Bello
FORESTBURGH, NY (August 28, 2014) – The Forestburgh Playhouse production of Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok’s stage adaptation of Chaim Potok’s 1967 novel, “The Chosen,” is an intellectual adventure into the fascinating realm of emotional relationships, especially the ties of honor, respect and obligation that exist between parent and child. This said, Ron Nash as production and scenic designer emphasizes style and theatricality in this sensitive coming-of-age drama. And since all those claiming to be parents have children and all children have parents, the contradictions, the universality and resolutions of opposing forces are nourishment for the intellectual digestive systems.
To demonstrate the conflict of ideas, the play concentrates on two religious father-and-son families living in 1940s Brooklyn. There are the Malters, modern orthodox Jews, and the Saunders who are Hasidic Jews. Both these men are leaders in their respective communities and both actively search for paths, paths to a better, more peaceful world.
The setting stresses the 40s and the revelations brought to the surface by the conclusion of the war. As the horrific, unimaginable extent of the Holocaust is revealed each father takes an opposing view on the formation of the state of Israel. David Malter, as a Zionist is entrenched in the belief that he must be aggressive or face the disappearance of his faith. Reb Saunders, as a Hasidic Jew believes God’s will is at work, and to interfere is blatant heresy. In the middle are two young boys, Reuvan Malter and David Saunders, who grow and learn from the conflict caused by tradition and the secular world that surrounds them.
Franklin Trapp as the adult Reuvan Malter skillfully narrates this tale of improbable friendship and father-son relationships. Trapp’s intense and eager approach appear to be contagious and compelling, as the entire cast is awe-inspiring. Further, his maneuverability was impressive as he navigates intricate details of the story line, while looking back on his adolescent years.
Edward Prostack delivers a magnificent performance as he presents on stage the Hasidic leader Reb Saunders. Fascinating were Prostack’s chants and prayers in Hebrew, and his revealing discussions about the holy text, mysticism and numerology. Combine this with Mark Hardy who presents an especially vigorous and passionate interpretation of David Malter. His craft was especially evident in the delivery of his speech advocating the state of Israel. The combined talents are effective, but some of the monologues did make for the occasional long and wordy scene.
An especially rewarding portion of the evening was the portrayal of the adolescent rivals Daniel and Reuven. Davy Raphaely effectively delivered a sensitive and secretly rebellious Daniel. He strikes a delicate balance and sharp contrast to his teenage foe, Reuven Malter. Of special interest for numerous Playhouse patrons was the illuminating performance of Caleb Funk. Caleb has been a member of the Forestburgh ensemble since the beginning of the season, appearing in several of this season’s outstanding musicals. His dramatic representation of Reuven is memorable. With credibility Funk portrays a sensitive, likable adolescent, just bubbling over with intellectual curiosity.
In the absence of toe-tapping hum-along musical numbers, “The Chosen” presents food for the intellect, and a not so abstract recognition that “people are not what they seem to be.” And, although the setting of this play is 1940s Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, it is in essence a memorandum to those with diametrically opposed philosophies and customs. The issues considered could easily include Asians, Anglos, Hispanics and Europeans. Friendship will build a bridge of commonality!
“The Chosen” will be presented at the Forestburgh Playhouse through Sunday, August 31. Call the box office at 845-794-1194, for tickets and information concerning the play and the outstanding Cabaret presentation “Devotedly, Sincerely Yours: The Story of the USO.”