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Washington Post

Review: Peter Marks on Theater J's 'The Chosen' at Arena Stage

By Peter Marks
Tuesday, March 15, 2011; 7:57 AM

The multitalented director Aaron Posner conjures with exceptional intelligence and sensitivity the religious and generational tempests of "The Chosen," Chaim Potok's 1967 coming-of-age novel recounting the unlikely friendship of young Jewish men from conflicting wings of the faith.

The harmoniously assembled Theater J production, presented in Arena Stage's largest space, the Fichandler, is one of those rare literary adaptations that frees itself of page-bound encumbrances and allows us to believe its characters are beings created for this occasion. The illusion is reinforced affectingly by the five-man ensemble and, in particular, by Joshua Morgan and Derek Kahn Thompson, who portray the friends, Danny and Reuven, with uncommon feel for the strains, large and small, that threaten to undo a profound connection.

Although the play delves in some detail into the nature of their spiritual rift - Danny is from a more rigid, Hasidic family - "The Chosen" is by no means aimed at Jewish audiences only. The issue of tolerance within branches of a faith and the debate over what level of adherence represents scrupulous devotion are forever being wrestled with in every denomination.

And certainly, the core concern of Posner's adaptation is a universal one: the almost mystical control a father can wield over a son. The story explores the ways in which duty to one's God and one's father can intermingle and become confusingly entangled. This is especially true of Morgan's Danny, who is being groomed through an emotionally barren regimen to one day assume the leadership role held by his rabbi father (a fine, nearly unrecognizable Rick Foucheux), a man of integrity engaged in his own private struggle, with how best to nourish a child's heart as well as his soul.  CONTINUE READING


3/16/2011 8:57:00 AM
'The Chosen' hits a home run

by Lisa Traiger Arts Correspondent

The black-and-white garb of chasidic Jews suggests the austere world in which they live, where every action is governed by the strictest interpretations of Halachah - Jewish law - and interacting with the outside community can be rife with risks.

This is the world 20th-century American writer Chaim Potok wrestled with: born into a chasidic family, he earned a degree in philosophy at a secular university, became a Conservative rabbi and a popular author. His 1967 novel The Chosen is among his most beloved for the dichotomies he brings to bear on the rivalry-turned-friendship of two Brooklyn teenagers, one the son of a chasidic rebbe, the other the son of a professor of Talmud and a modern Orthodox Jew.

Theater J has returned to the theatrical adaptation of The Chosen by writer/director Aaron Posner with script contributions from Potok, who died in 2002. This time, in a new partnership with Arena Stage, the play runs through March 27 at Arena's glistening new Mead Center for America Theater, which envelops the classic theater-in-the-round Fichandler stage, among other performance and rehearsal venues, in an undulating glass cocoon. CONTINUE READING



The Chosen
March 18, 2011 By Jayne Blanchard Leave a Comment

We go to live theater for fireworks, but in the case of Theater J’s fine staging of The Chosen, transplanted to Arena Stage for a brief run, often the production’s pleasures are revealed in the silences and the emotions unspoken between fathers and sons, as well as between two very different friends.

The joys are deep and stirring in The Chosen, adapted and directed by Aaron Posner from Chaim Potok’s 1967 novel. Mr. Posner gives this thoughtful literary work ample space to breathe, and he and the astute cast trust the silences, which gives the audience time to sit quietly with the play and reflect—a luxury in these antsy, multi-tasking times.

This is not to say that the contemplative nature of the production detracts from the beauty of Mr. Potok’s language, which unfolds like a vital intellectual discourse with one question leading to more profound and complex inquiry. The spoken word is paramount in this adaptation, and the rich discussions are seasoned with Yiddish and Hebrew phrases. For the goyim, there is a glossary in the program, but translations are often seamlessly grafted into the narrative.

The Chosen shifts effortlessly between worlds—the insular world of the Jewish neighborhood of Williamsburg in Brooklyn in the 1940s and the wide world beckoning beyond the community’s borders; the tight friendship between two boys and the separate, spinning orbits of their fathers; the state of American Jewry and the controversial founding of the state of Israel.  CONTINUE READING




Theater J's revival of The Chosen gets a tremendous boost from a staging in Arena's in-the-round Fichandler
by Doug Rule
Published on March 16, 2011, 9:45pm | 1 Comment and 3 Postings

You don’t go to the theater for silence. It’s not a place for meditation or prayer, after all -- at least not if it’s a good show. So it says something (in a manner of speaking) that director Aaron Posner has managed with The Chosen to pull off a good -- borderline great -- play in which silence plays an integral role. It’s also notable that he does it with a play he personally adapted from a book by Chaim Potok -- not always the best source for riveting theater. All those words tend to get in the way.

Posner achieves the feat by the sheer fact of The Chosen’s staging in Arena’s theater-in-the-round space. No one seat is too far from the centered action, and the eye has more to take in all around, keeping one’s attention. Naturally, set designer James Kronzer deserves props for a pared-down, unobstructed approach.  CONTINUE READING


We Love Arts: The Chosen
By Jenn Larsen, 1:00 pm March 14th, 2011

There’s something old-fashioned about Theater J’s production of The Chosen, presented with a quiet sensitivity in the staging and the acting, echoed in the warm wood of James Kronzer’s set. To call it old-fashioned is to by no means denigrate its power. It has a sepia-toned subtlety.

Theater J first produced an adaptation of Chaim Potok’s novel ten years ago, and is returning to it now under the aegis of Arena Stage. Setting a play of such intimacy in the airy round of the Fichandler is a bit of a risk – a play about the complicated relationships between fathers and sons requires a closer access than that large theater can provide, and sometimes I longed for the smaller confines of Theater J’s usual home. But it’s thrilling to see a company I’ve long admired in the gorgeous space by the waterfront, and it expands the audience capacity to see two Washington powerhouses – Edward Gero and Rick Foucheux – command the stage regardless of its size. CONTINUE READING



Two fathers, two songs, unlimited understanding
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By: Barbara Mackay 03/13/11 7:05 PM
Special to The Washington Examiner

There is a great deal of symmetry in the Theater J production of "The Chosen" at Arena Stage. There are two fathers, two sons, two baseball teams, two communities and two very different views of Judaism. An adaptation of Chaim Potok's novel, "The Chosen" is set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, beginning in 1944.

In Aaron Posner's effective adaptation, the story establishes the mood of an era, illuminating the sights and smells of 1940s Brooklyn, then moves on to reveal the inner lives of two 15-year-old boys who face off on a baseball diamond. Although they live five blocks apart, their worlds are totally separate: Reuven is a modern Orthodox Jew, Danny is a member of the Hasidic community.

The play is narrated by an adult version of Reuven (Aaron Davidman). As he recalls how he and Danny played, fought and taught each other the virtues of friendship, he provides the gentle, philosophic tone that is essential to this production.  CONTINUE READING




Joshua Morgan and Derek Kahn Thompson from The Chosen

March 11, 2011 By Joel Markowitz 1 Comment

I read Chaim Potok’s The Chosen when it was first published in 1967. I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home in Buffalo, NY where me and most of my 5 brothers played hockey and baseball in the streets of Buffalo, just like Reuven and Danny. And like Danny, I had a religious clergyman father who didn’t know how to talk to me and gave me the ‘silent treatment’. And like Danny, I injured a friend in a sporting event – at a ‘Putt-Putt’ miniature golf game where I teed off and hit someone’s right eye. The injured boy later became a good friend of mine.

Reading The Chosen book brought back many memories – some good and some bad – and when I saw Aaron Posner’s production ten years ago at Theater J it moved me so much that I kept coming back to see it. Now, Theater J is mounting a new production of The Chosen, this time directed by Aaron Posner (the first production in 2000/1 was directed by Steven Carpenter) in The Fichandler at Arena Stage, and I am very much looking forward to seeing two talented young actors – Joshua Morgan and Derek Thompson perform the roles of Danny and Reuven. And of course I am looking forward to watching local treasures Rick Foucheux and Edward Gero playing their fathers. But before I attended a performance of the show, I wanted to learn more about how Joshua and Derek were preparing for their roles and how their own religious upbringing influenced their performances. CONTINUE READING



Backstage: Theater J's 'Chosen' at Arena Stage


By Jane Horwitz
Wednesday, March 9, 2011

In a spacious rehearsal room at Arena Stage - now gloriously renovated and renamed Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater - something unusual was underway Feb. 26. Theater J's production of "The Chosen" was in rehearsal for a March 8-27 run in Arena's 683-seat Fichandler in-the-round space. This is a big deal for Theater J, which has a thrust stage and 240 seats in the D.C. Jewish Community Center.

Director Aaron Posner, who adapted Chaim Potok's novel for the stage more than a decade ago, worked with actors Derek Thompson and Joshua Morgan, who play Jewish boys in World War II-era Brooklyn. Reuven (Thompson) and Danny (Morgan) were meeting for the first time on a baseball diamond, where Reuven's modern Orthodox team was to face Danny's Hasidic team. Aaron Davidman as the grown-up Reuven stood between them as the play's narrator. Sound designer James Sugg sat at a laptop, weaving in cues of bats smacking baseballs as Posner experimented with how Danny should make his entrance. The production will also feature veteran actors Rick Foucheux and Edward Gero as Danny's and Reuven's fathers.  CONTINUE READING