"The Chosen": An exploration of fathers, sons and faith
Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 12:43 a.m.
People aren't always what they seem.
- WHAT: A drama adapted from the best-selling novel by Chaim Potok.
- WHERE: The Hippodrome State Theatre
- WHEN: Friday through March 25: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays.
- TICKETS: $30 general admission; $20 seniors, $10 students (375- HIPP). Reduced price preview tonight at 8 p.m.
Perhaps it sounds like a simple enough statement, a cliché even. But peel back the layers, think of it when it applies to villains like Hitler and the Nazis, and the meaning becomes a bit more complex.
That sentiment is at the heart of "The Chosen," a play based on the novel by renowned Jewish-American author, Chaim Potok.
The play, which opens Friday at the Hippodrome State Theatre, was adapted by Potok himself, with the help of Aaron Posner, and comes to the stage under the direction of Lauren Caldwell.
"I think this is one of the better adaptations from book to play that I've come across," Caldwell says.
Like the book, the play is an intimate portrait of American Jews during and after World War II, focusing especially on the differences between strict Hasidic Jews and the more secular Conservative Jews.
It follows two young boys - Danny Saunders, the son of a Hasidic rabbi who is in line to take over his father's throng of loyal followers, and Reuven Malter, a Conservative Jew who has begun to assimilate into American culture - as they become unlikely friends and struggle to understand each other's way of life.
The boys meet as rivals at a baseball game, where a line drive off Danny's bat smashes into Reuven's eye.
When Danny (played by Elya Ottenberg), comes to the hospital to apologize, he meets an icy reception from Reuven (Michael Littig), which slowly gives way to grudging acceptance. Soon, the boys realize they are not as different as they both thought, and a deep friendship begins to blossom.
"These two friends really love each other," Littig says.
To develop that love on stage, the actors had to first develop a relationship off stage.
"We were able to connect very quickly," Ottenberg says. "We've been able to embrace the differences between ourselves and our characters."
The play is more cerebral than physical, and it succeeds or fails by the dialogue and the actors' ability to sustain the dramatic tension.
"It's exhausting emotionally," Littig says.
The story happens against a backdrop of war, the Holocaust and, eventually, the Zionist movement, which fought for and created the state of Israel in 1948.
"You've got two plays going on here," says Howard Elfman, who plays Danny's father, Reb Saunders. "You've got the families and the Zionist movement."
Caldwell emphasizes the importance of history in the play, especially as it relates to the current situation in the Middle East.
"We thought this one had a lot to say about what's going on in the world today," she says. "It brings up questions of our responsibility to other people and other nations."
Ottenberg adds that, while the play's historical undercurrent anchors it to a specific place and time, the relationships between the characters make it timeless.
"It's so historical and intellectual, but once you start to listen to the relationships, the play is really universal," he says.
Relationships drive the play - Danny and Reuven's relationship is at the center, and it illuminates Danny's relationship with his father, who has decided to raise his son in silence, and Reuven's relationship with his father, who is warm, open and loving.
"I agree with my character's choices," Elfman says.
Ultimately, choice is a focal theme, and the title of the play refers to more than Jews being the chosen people.
"It's very much about choosing the meaning in your life," Ottenberg says. "It's about understanding the differences between people."
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