I didn’t realize how much Israel resembles Williamsburg of late 1940s until I saw The Chosen, last Thursday at Merkaz HaMagshimim Hadassah’s Center Stage Theater. Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders live in the same neighborhood for most of their lives, for the most part unaware of one another’s existence, yet as members of different Jewish communities – Modern Orthodox and Hasidic, respectively, they are already enemies.
Potok’s novel, adapted for the Jerusalem stage by Raphael Poch, is poignantly relevant in the context of present-day Israel. Unfortunately, we do not have Reuven’s father, David Malter, to remind us that “people are not always what they seem to be,” and encourage us to look further. Even if we did most of us (this writer included) are so convinced of the righteousness of our own ways, we probably wouldn’t listen.
While the text has a certain naïveté – much of the plot hinges on fact that these teenagers are actually listening to their fathers – co-directors Raphael Poch and Jeremy Man Saltan have put together a warm and lively production that is both entertaining and sincere. I quite willingly suspended all cynicism and disbelief, and entered the streets, homes and playing fields of Williamsburg. Saltan threw himself body – as Coach Gallanter – and soul – as a dancing Hassid – into his roles, and kept me laughing. Simon Montague succeeded in redeeming Potok from the realm of the didactic, despite having to recite the history of the Hassidic movement. Rabbi David Golinkin had a mischievous gleam in his eye as Reb Saunders (which might make it easier for me to someday consider forgiving him for the way he raised his son), and Neil Turetsky managed to convince me that professors can, on occasion be “approachable.”
However, it is through Reuven Malter’s eyes that we see this unlikely friendship unfold, and Coren Feldman is the perfect guide on this journey of discovery. Feldman has a natural ease onstage, his Reuven is shy, proud, curious, smart and occasionally clueless – just as he should be. In one of my favorite scenes, when Reuven first visits Danny’s home, his body language reflects the polite awkwardness of the outsider, even in the small gesture of tugging at his sweater while sitting stiffly in his chair. Yair Goldstein as Danny is the perfect foil for Feldman’s Reuven, together they create a portrait of a friendship that is not only credible, but inspiring.
There is one more performance scheduled for Feb. 1st at 8 pm, at 7a Dor Dor v’Dorshav in the German Colony in Jerusalem. Tickets are 60 shekels, with discounts for students, soldiers, children, pensioners. Also special group prices available! Call 02 672 2405 or go to www.themerkaz.org