“The Chosen”, adapted by Aaron Posner (and Chaim Potok, from his 1967 novel), now ours to enjoy in Lyric Stage Company’s second outing of the season, is a faithful rendering of the beloved work. It’s an old-fashioned format (complete with that swiftly vanishing species, an intermission), which fortunately serves the material well. It’s a simple and basically sweet story about two vastly different approaches to parenting in the midst of an increasingly threatening world. Two Jewish boys, living just blocks apart, are brought up with all the best intentions, but in fundamentally opposite traditions by their influential fathers. All of these characters are called in varying ways to live out their beliefs. How the boys mature and make life-changing decisions will change our preconceptions of who is chosen for what.
Director Daniel Gidron has assembled a very talented group both behind and in front of the “curtain”. The technical achievements are all well coordinated, from the versatile Scenic Design by Brynna Bloomfield to the perfectly suitable Costume Design by Mallory Frers, to the effective Lighting Design by John Malinowski, Sound Design by Dewey Dellay and Floor Projection by Martin Mendelsberg. They all contribute to a harmonious recreation of 1940’s Brooklyn, with careful attention to details (such as the Eastern European style of glass tea implements in the traditional home, versus the more assimilated home‘s porcelain tea service). The small cast of five includes Charles Linshaw (the adult Reuven Malter), who serves as the narrator, a role often introduced when a literary source is adapted for the stage. Zachary Eisenstat (Young Reuven) and Luke Murtha (Danny Saunders) are the boys, and Joel Colodner (Reb Saunders) and Will McGarrahan (David Malter) are their fathers.
Colodner has the meatiest role, in which he excels, as he has chosen to mold his son by silence. “For a word to be spoken, there must be silence before and after”. Murtha (so memorable in the recent New Rep production “The Kite Runner”) laments that his father “talks a lot, but not to me”. The only evident intimacy they share is in their arguments about the Talmud. McGarrahan, in yet another challenging role that adds to an amazingly varied career, feels that “anything that brings (people) together is a blessing”. That something, an accidental injury during a baseball game, is the catalyst for a friendship that will result in change for all of the characters as they react to the post-war Holocaust revelations, especially as they debate the possibility of a secular Jewish state. Those who have read the book will probably recall how the tensions are resolved, but those new to the storyline will probably not anticipate the eventual choices that are made.
The more traditional father states at one point that “a mind without a soul is not what I need from a son”, but that “the heart speaks through silence”, through which one learns “to hear the suffering of others in between silences”. Just how the conflicts between a scholar and an activist are reconciled is at the heart of this work, and this story has a lot of heart. As with all good theater that brings us together, this is a blessing.