Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Of equal importance are three relationships; sons and fathers are featured. Reb Saunders (George Guidall) is devoted to his Hasidic orthodoxy and demands that his son Danny (Ben Edelman) abide by the belief system which focuses upon the coming of the Jewish Messiah. David Malter (Steven Skybell), on the other hand, is a scholar and animated Zionist who excitedly awaits the formation of Israel, the Jewish homeland. His son Reuven (Max Wolkowitz) is a math whiz. Reuven also steps downstage every so often to supply the script's narration which assists in telling the story of The Chosen. The play delves into Danny and Reuven's developing friendship.
The families live during the 1940s in Brooklyn, only a few blocks from one another. The action begins as Danny pitches a baseball to Reuven who is flattened when the ball flies directly into his eyeglasses. Reuven, upset, visits Danny in the hospital. Danny (whose injury does heal) is, at first, harboring anger. Thereafter, a bond which seemed unlikely at best, quickly forms between these two teenagers. When David Malter is hospitalized with a heart attack, much later in the first act, Reb Saunders insists that Danny stay with them. (Neither of the households includes any women.)
At a library, the elder Malter has been supplying Reuven with books about Freud and the adolescent is fully engaged by the psychologist's theories. In time, the young men go off to Hirsch College. Previously, each, at different yeshivas, studied Talmud. At the college, Danny initially stays with mathematics while Reuven, attempting to pursue his passion, finds that "rat psychology" dominates the curriculum. Thus, he is far from pleased. Both of the young men, during the final segment of the two hour presentation, evolveenough said.
During the middle portion of the first act, David and his son Reuven sit at a wooden table on one portion of the stage as Reb Saunders and Danny sit at a similar table which is positioned at a different angle. Director Gordon Edelstein and designer Mark Barton first light one pair and then the other as the twosomes take turns speaking. During another sequence, all four individuals talk at once. These directorial choices invigorate the show.
It's evident that the coming-of-age youths are eagerly emerging from their quite different backgrounds within Judaism. As fathers, the modernistic David Malter is visibly warmer to his son, but Reb Saunders is also heartfelt in his attachment to his boy. Characters differ: Reuven makes eye contact with anyone to whom he speaks (and the audience too); Danny, a bit hunched over, is less direct. Toward the end of the evening, however, the younger principals are not so oppositional. It seems natural that their friendship thrives.
All four actors find their characters immediately and they are proficient, throughout, with the demands of the dialogue. While this play is filled with words, it is an emotive piece as well. Costuming by Paloma Young and wig and hair design by J. Jared Janas assist with tone and flavor.
The Chosen, insightful throughout, is most affecting during its second act. This is a script about Jewish men during a specified era, but its truths have a universal quality.
The Chosen continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut through December 17th, 2017. For tickets, call the box office at (203) 787-4282 or visit longwharf.org.