The Chosen

[The following review appeared in the Denver Post on November 1st.]

The tumultuous events and tortuous realizations that accompanied the culmination of World War II are mined for drama in The Chosen, the poignant distillation of Chaim Potok's popular 1967 novel—a deeply personal tale of immigration, assimilation and cultural preservation.

Albert Banker as Reb Saunders
Albert Banker as Reb Saunders
Photo: Ellen Nelson
Almost every ethnic group has faced adversity to get to this place. In The Chosen, we zoom in during those unsettling times among refugees in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, including the Irish, German and Spanish, and focus upon two key segments of the Jewish community.

Here we find Reb Saunders (Albert Banker), a tzaddik (living saint) and leader of a group of Chassidim who walked across Europe and sailed to the U.S. to escape the slaughter of their people at the hands of the Cossacks.

(Left to right) Royce Wood as Reuven, Albert Banker as Reb Saunders, and Anthony Bianco as Danny
(L to R) Royce Wood as Reuven,
Albert Banker as Reb Saunders,
and Anthony Bianco as Danny
Photo: Ellen Nelson
The rabbi is grooming his son, Danny (Anthony Bianco) to succeed him. During a local schoolyard baseball game, Danny meets Reuven (Royce Wood), a practicing Jew from outside the Chassidic fold, and, in turn, Reuven's father, David Malter (Robert Kramer). Malter is proficient in the Talmud, passionate in his writings and, after the Holocaust, fully committed to Zionism.

The script is an admirable adaptation of the relatively short novel, concentrating on these four characters, with assists from three well-drawn cameos (Mike Pearl) and an engaging narrator, an older Reuven (Jason Maxwell), who provides enriching context and witty introspection at key points.

(Left to right) Robert Kramer as David Malter and Mike Pearl as Jack Rose
(L to R) Robert Kramer as David Malter
and Mike Pearl as Jack Rose
Photo: Ellen Nelson
Rick Bernstein directs a strong cast for the Colorado debut of Theatre Or (transplanted from Durham, N.C.). Maxwell's geniality invites us into the libraries of the two older men, the rabbi's synagogue, a hospital room, a university setting and that great cross-cultural melting pot, a baseball diamond. All this in Pluss Theatre's small black box.

(Left to right) Anthony Bianco as Danny and Royce Wood as Reuven
(L to R) Anthony Bianco as Danny
and Royce Wood as Reuven
Photo: Ellen Nelson
At the heart of the drama is the friendship between the two boys, which Malter defines for his son as "two bodies with one soul." Kramer's sublime shadings of his character's health afflictions (coughs, posture, and expressions) bring gravitas to the nuggets of wisdom he dispenses to Reuven and Danny.

These Solomonic jewels are Malter's to dispense because the rabbi is committed to the virtues of silence, in both everyday practice and in his relationship with his son. Banker packs a punch when the rabbi rails against the secular Jewish state for which the Zionists are fighting, though the pain over his estrangement from Danny is less evident.

Jason Maxwell as the older Reuven, the narrator
Jason Maxwell as
the older Reuven, the narrator
Photo: Ellen Nelson
Portraying the rabbi's son, Bianco shows palpable turmoil as he explains to Reuven how he and his father relate, or don't. Likewise, his relief is our relief when he discovers that his father is willing to grant him his heart's desire. Wood's Reuven, though introverted compared with Danny, is the most reasoned voice in the story, as one would expect because the story is told from his perspective. Wood makes this stick with a thoughtful presence that connects Reuven to the narrator, his older self.

The Chosen draws its relevancy from the continuing role that immigration plays in our daily lives and political discourse, and provides an uplifting vision for the life-altering choices and sacrifices of those who leave their homelands for a better life.

Theatre Or's production of The Chosen runs through November 14th. or 303-316-6360.

Bob Bows


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