Long Wharf Theatre
Long Wharf Theatre is currently presenting an excellent production of the play, “The Chosen.” Based on a novel by Chaim Potok, and adapted for the stage by Potok and Aaron Posner, this compelling play concerns the growing friendship between two Jewish boys in Brooklyn in 1944. I had seen a different staging of “The Chosen” recently, but the Long Wharf Theatre production seems somewhat sharper, with stronger acting and direction. It also helps that the play is so sympathetic and involving, with lots of wonderful moments throughout. Under Gordon Edelstein’s precise direction, “The Chosen” at Long Wharf Theatre is an extremely fulfilling show that can be highly recommended.
When the audience takes their seats, the curtain is up and one can see Eugene Lee’s attractive set design, but, notably, there is a wall of netting hanging in the middle of the stage that one must look through. This netting (which is removed early in the show) actually serves the purpose of setting up the first scene of the play, which is of a baseball game. Indeed, the initial defining moment in the show occurs during the game, when Ben Edelman, as Danny Saunders, hits a shot directly into the eye of the pitcher, Reuven Malter, portrayed by Max Wolkowitz. Although the two characters hate each other at first, this accident on the baseball field ends up cementing the beginning of their friendship.
The acting in “The Chosen” is strong all around, but it is truly the two young men who really shine. Max Wolkowitz is dynamic as Reuven and this performer also serves as the narrator of the show, quickly pulling one into the play. Ben Edelman is entirely his equal, as Danny, and a good deal of the enjoyment of “The Chosen” are the scenes that they share together and how they find common ground, in spite of their differences. For, while both characters are Jewish, it is Danny who is Hasidic and Reuven who is not. Indeed, their fathers in the play, at first, seem to be almost polar opposites and the disparate father/son scenes make quite a dichotomy.
George Guidall is extremely commanding and stern as Danny’s father, Reb Saunders, who looks critically on other Jewish people who do not practice Hasidism. This is not to say, though, that this character isn’t multi-dimensional, with a surprising sense of compassion underneath. As Reuven’s father, David Malter, Steven Skybell is grand and it is immediately apparent that he loves his son and wants him to pursue his dreams. Indeed, there are contrasting scenes in the first act where one observes a rapt conversation between Reuven and his father, compared to Danny sitting in silence, aching for his father to speak to him.
Still, “The Chosen” is a much deeper play than it seems at first glance, with more than a few surprises along the way. Gordon Edelstein’s superb direction of the play allows one to truly see all the layers in the four leading characters and the director’s pacing of the show is crisp and concise. Also aiding this production is Eugene Lee’s finely detailed set, and Paloma Young’s costume design is terrific, really showing the differences in how the characters are dressed, based on their religions. Likewise, Mark Barton’s lighting is wonderful in shaping the stage, with particularly strong moments when Reuven addresses the audience directly.
“The Chosen” holds one’s interest from beginning to end and it is easy to get caught up in the lives of Danny and Reuven and really root for their friendship to thrive and grow. Since the backdrop of the play is the war overseas, where Jewish people are being persecuted, the play is also quite sobering, with a sense of tension underlining even the happiest of scenes. What’s especially nice about Long Wharf Theatre’s production of “The Chosen,” as well, is that it takes the time to show the differences, as well as the similarities, in father/son relationships. Thanks to fine acting and direction, “The Chosen” proves to be a play that one can truly take to heart.
“The Chosen” continues performances at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT through December 17, 2017. For tickets, please visit www.longwharf.org or call the box office at 203-787-4282.
Photo: (L-R): Steven Skybell and Max Wolkowitz
Photo by T. Charles Erickson