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For its inaugural production, the new nonprofit Theatre Or selected The Chosen, a new play by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok based on Potok's much-beloved 1967 first novel. The show will debut Feb. 1 and also play Feb. 7 and 8 at the Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, North Carolina. It will play Feb. 14 and 15 at the Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh.
"I read Chaim Potok's The Chosen a million years ago and was deeply moved by the story," admits director Joseph Megel. "When working at Theatre J in Washington, D.C., I discovered that they had produced a stage adaptation of the novel and was intrigued. When discussions began to be floated about the creation of a Jewish theater in the Triangle, this play seemed a natural first choice."
Megel says, "The play looks at the unlikely friendship between two Jewish boys in the 1940s in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn — one, young Reuven (Max Kaufman), the son of Malter (Herbert Wolff), a secular Talmudic scholar and avid Zionist, and one, Danny (Marshall Botvinick), the son of Saunders (Bob Barr), the leader of a small Chassidic group from Eastern Europe.
"The play is told in memory by the older Reuven (Scott Franco), who also plays an array of secondary characters. It explores the love and pain that join father and son, and the ways in which these bonds must be broken, as the boys become men," Megel explains. He adds, "Gabriel Graetz also plays several characters including a Yeshiva student and a baseball team member."
Megel says, "The Chosen is a memory play that effectively evokes a specific time and place. The play presents an intriguing metaphor for differences by delineating them within a group. This serves, I think, to make its story resonate more universally. I like directing plays with theatrical elements and am always intrigued by the challenges of bringing literature to the stage."
According to the mission statement of Theatre Or — "'Or' is the Hebrew word for light," says theater-company co-founder and producing director Diane Gilboa — "Theatre Or is dedicated to the production of innovative, provocative, and entertaining professional theatre for North Carolina that explores topics which are relevant to the Jewish community and also hold universal appeal. By producing classical, contemporary, and new works by American and international playwrights, we seek to celebrate our Jewish identity in a complex and uncertain world, share our cultural heritage with an emerging new generation, and strengthen our Jewish community and its ties to the broader multicultural community in which we live."
Besides director Joseph Megel, who recently staged Dream Boy and Shakespeare's R & J for Chapel Hill, NC-based StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance, the production team for The Chosen includes set designer Rob Hamilton, lighting designer Elizabeth Grimes-Droessler, costume designer Jeff Hockett, and sound designer Chris Droessler.
Megel says, "We are using this production to introduce the concept of a new Jewish theater in North Carolina, and so we are taking it as a kind of work-in-progress to a number of local synagogues. This presents enormous design challenges as the show has to be designed to go up in a matter of hours instead of the usual week of tech. The required simplicity has the advantage of focusing us all conceptually and may, we hope, have resulted in a design that both works for the play and for the tour."
He adds, "The set is created in three areas connected by small bridges. Two of the areas represent the fathers' studies, where the boys' relationship with their fathers play out; and the center area where all other actions takes place. The backdrop evokes the time and place of the play."
Megel says, "The lighting is simple and functional given the restrictions of location of the play [and] the costumes are once again more evocative than purely realistic.
"For those who know the book," Joseph Megel explains, "the play centers exclusively on the relationship between the boys and their fathers. For me, it is a play that can start a longer conversation about what Jewish theater is, who is it for, and what should it be doing in today's world. These are similar questions any other targeted theaters (e.g. Latino, African American, Gay & Lesbian) should and do ask."
In reviewing a previous production of The Chosen, the Philadelphia City Paper wrote "The Chosen tells a wonderful story...." The Philadelphia Weekly called the play "moving.... [It] examines the freedom that comes with the passage from childhood to adulthood — intellectual freedom, religious freedom, America's promise of freedom."
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said, "Take me somewhere new; surprise me with familiarity; dig deep into character, ideology and the human heart. The Chosen does.... It's irresistible." And the Philadelphia-based Chestnut Hill Local raved, "... Potok has collaborated with ... Aaron Posner, a director and writer of theatrical imagination and skill who brings ... theatricality to the story without losing its intellectual content or sacrificing Potok's stunning language."
Theatre Or presents The Chosen Sunday, Feb. 1, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 7, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 8, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. at Judea Reform Congregation, 1933 W. Cornwallis Blvd., Durham, North Carolina, and Saturday, Feb. 14, at 8:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 15, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. at Beth Meyer Synagogue, 504 Newton Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina. $10-$20. 919/489-7062 (Durham only), 919/848-1420 (Raleigh only), or 919/990-1994 (both), or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (both). Note: A post-performance discussion with cast and a champagne reception will follow the $20 Feb. 1 evening performance. Theatre Or: http://www.theatreor.org/. Chaim Potok (1929-2002): http://www.lasierra.edu/~ballen/potok/ [inactive 7/04]. Judea Reform Congregation: http://www.judeareform.org/. Beth Meyer Synagogue: http://www.bethmeyer.raleigh.nc.us/ [inactive 9/04] .
& 2/13/04: The Chosen (Theatre Or, 8:30 p.m. Feb. 14 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15 at Beth Meyer Synagogue, 504 Newton Rd., Raleigh, NC) is a new play written by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok, based on Potok's much-beloved 1967 first novel, and directed by Joseph Megel. In reviewing a previous production of The Chosen, the Philadelphia City Paper wrote, "The Chosen tells a wonderful story.... " The Philadelphia Weekly called the play "moving.... [It] examines the freedom that comes with the passage from childhood to adulthood — intellectual freedom, religious freedom, America's promise of freedom." For more information about Theatre Or, visit http://www.theatreor.org/. For more information about Chaim Potok (1929-2002), visit http://www.lasierra.edu/~ballen/potok/ [inactive 7/04]. For more information about Beth Meyer Synagogue, visit http://www.bethmeyer.raleigh.nc.us/ [inactive 9/04]. For tickets, telephone 919/848-1420 or 990-1994 or e-mail email@example.com. For the full-length Robert's Reviews preview by Robert W. McDowell, visit http://www.cvnc.org/th-arch0104.html#ChosenPre. For Robert's Reviews' review by Scott Ross, visit http://www.cvnc.org/th-arch0204.html#ChosenRev.