Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
June 10, 2011
Everybody knows – well, everyone except a few parochial politicians – that the arts can have a transformative effect – on students, parents, whole communities. But there’s something of a dark side to the arts, too. The boundless passion of an artist for his creative pursuit can alienate him from his family, relationships, even his religion.
In the salutary-effect category, we have “The Music Man,” the delightful musical tale of a con-man who rouses the ardor, enthusiasm and optimism of a small, self-satisfied town. And on the flip-side, there’s “My Name is Asher Lev,” the heart-rending drama of one ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn Jewish boy whose genius fractures his life and his household, forcing him to choose between tradition and imagination, his obligation to his piety or to his prodigious talent.
Chaim Potok’s acclaimed 1972 novel is a confessional, wherein Asher Lev, a wildly successful artist, explains how he got where he is, and what it cost him. That style works wonderfully in book form, but it doesn’t make for a very dramatic piece of theater. Though Aaron Posner’s adaptation hews faithfully to the late Dr. Potok’s frankly autobiographical work, it violates one of the cardinal rules of theater: Show, don’t tell.
As Asher Lev, Craig De Lorenzo, an engaging performer, talks through most of the 90 languid minutes, describing events in his life that are intermittently played out with two other actors.
Though the play has weaknesses, the production does not. It’s attractively designed, and it features a stunning performance by North Coast Rep artistic director David Ellenstein, who doesn’t venture onstage nearly often enough. Here, he portrays four distinctly different characters, with humor, gusto, intelligence and gravitas. And he’s doing double duty, also directing – himself, De Lorenzo, and Crystal Sershen , who plays the mother torn between hidebound husband and incendiary son.
This piece poses important arguments about faith and inspiration, being true to yourself and your God-given gifts.
In River City, Iowa, faith takes a different turn – believing in the possible. It’s 1912, and flim -flam man Harold Hill is about to scam another credulous community. But he winds up working wonders on the townsfolk, even winning over strait-laced, high-minded Marion the librarian. He’s in for a surprise himself — getting snagged – and snogged.
Snuggling its largest production into an intimate space, Lamb’s Players Theatre celebrates its 40th anniversary with a slam-dunk, pitch-perfect show. The ensemble is spectacular, clothed in gorgeously colorful costumes, singing magnificently, dancing energetically, acting infectiously, with the backing of an outstanding band. With the inventive direction of Deborah Gilmour Smyth and the high-octane choreography of Colleen Kollar Smith, the Lamb’s show exactly what makes Meredith Willson’s brilliantly nostalgic musical a timeless American classic. Bring the whole family, and savor the first melt-in-your-mouth, cotton candy confection of the summer season.
“My Name Is Asher Lev” runs through June 26, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.
“The Music Man” continues through July 24, at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado.
©2011 PAT LAUNER