Most of us devise a way of both giving meaning to, and deriving meaning from, our experience of the world. At its root, Aaron Posner's stage adaptation of Chaim Potok's novel "My Name is Asher Lev" contrasts two of those ways, through religion and through art.

Most of us devise a way of both giving meaning to, and deriving meaning from, our experience of the world. At its root, Aaron Posner’s stage adaptation of Chaim Potok’s novel “My Name is Asher Lev” contrasts two of those ways, through religion and through art.

As a Hasidic Jewish child in Brooklyn, Asher Lev (Isaac Nippert) feels compelled to draw, much to the consternation of his observant father, Aryeh (Ralph Scott), and the confusion of his conflicted mother, Rivkeh (Melissa Graves). At first, Aryeh is impressed by his son’s obvious gift. But as Asher begins to steep himself in an artistic tradition that includes nudes and crucifixions, his father loses sympathy with his son’s growing obsession. Aryeh, whose work for the Hasidic leader the Rebbe takes him frequently to Europe, sees Asher abandoning the vital Jewish traditions of religious studies for the “trivialities” of artistic expression.

Caught between husband and son, Rivkeh suffers a breakdown when her beloved brother, Yaakov, dies in an accident while doing work similar to what Aryeh does for the Rebbe, helping European Jews. She recovers stronger than ever, pursuing her education and carrying on her brother’s work at the side of her husband. Graves’ performance as Rivkeh reflects mostly quiet and subtle strength, but she gets to show a livelier side briefly as gallery owner Anna Schaeffer.

In one of his most effective performances in memory, Scott commands the stage as the domineering and opinionated Aryeh, sure of himself and unafraid of the consequences. At the play’s center, Nippert carries Asher from the little child both enthralled and puzzled by his talent to the adult who has followed his vision in spite of the suffering it causes to those he loves.

This co-production by CATCO and Gallery Players deftly sets out the eternal struggle between irreconcilable traditions.

Photo caption: Actors Isaac Nippert (foreground), Ralph Scott and Melissa Graves in a scene from “My Name is Asher Lev.”

Photo by Ben Sostrom