my-name-is-asher-lev2Director Steven Schipper must be an artist in his own right, similar to the protagonist in the Segal Centre and Royal Manitoba Theatre Center’s captivating co-production of the Segal’s latest homerun, My Name is Asher Lev. Armed with a triad of top-notch actors and a steadfastly talented crew who set the scene and outfit the cast to period perfection, Schipper paints effortlessly on a canvas of contrast – the past and the present, the values of the Old World and the values of the New World, the liberal sphere of art and the conservative sphere of faith, and unity and painful struggle in the family unit.

David Reale guides the brushstrokes in his masterful performance as Asher Lev, a boy growing up in postwar prosperous America in the 1950s, but born into a Hasidic family in New York. Surrounded by rigid religious codes and a narrow path of choices in adulthood, he discovers a traditional destiny will be anything but a cohesive choice for a young man who has been told all his life the secular world and its seductive temptations and pleasures is a direct affront to his predestined purpose in life.

His parents are fully committed to this life, his father so much so that he travels the world for the clergy in charge of his sect, spreading the gospel to other Jews of their particular way of life. His mother has her own set of issues, but nothing could prepare them for the proverbial fly in the ointment when it turns out Asher has a gift for secular art and eventually feels compelled to share it with the world – a world outside their pious community.

Religious parents likely often feel concerned about their children being attracted by the strange and curious world outside the confines of their community, but Asher’s parents have even more than this to worry about. His art borders on scandalous at times, and his jaw-dropping masterpiece some would consider grounds for immediate expulsion and excommunication.

Ellen David and Alex Poch-Goldin delightfully step into the role of Asher’s parents, and even assume all the other peripheral roles in the production with unrelenting vigor and vitality. With the wistful costuming abilities of Louise Bourret and great set and lighting design by Martin Ferland and Hugh Conacher, respectively, a portrait is again painted, one that keeps the audience zooming in and out of different times and places in the brisk production.

It seems as if the young Mr. Lev is being dragged into the secular world of freedom and individualistic expression by a rare talent he may not even understand, but would be remiss to deny. What began as the 1972 novel by Chaim Potok is whisked from page to stage by the slam-dunk talents and tireless efforts of cast and crew.

While the climax in some ways comes at the beginning, the struggle that parents face then as now, between that of guiding the direction their children’s lives take, or simply allowing it to happen, is ongoing throughout the production and beyond. It is captured in timely fashion by a story first told some forty-five years ago, but it might as well have been forty-five minutes ago. Any theatergoer fortunate enough to take it in is effortlessly brought into the conflict and wonderment that is My Name is Asher Lev. It continues until October 2nd.

Visit segalcentre.org for more details or call 514-739-7944 .