The Chosen at Long Wharf Theatre

 “Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater critic by night- with my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.

Today’s edition of Katz Reviews follows my visit this past weekend to New Haven to see Long Wharf Theatre’s current production of ‘The Chosen,’ which runs through December 17th. It’s based on Chaim Potok’s classic 1967 novel and set in Brooklyn from 1944 through 1946.

Directed by Gordon Edelstein, ‘The Chosen’ focuses on our narrator, named Reuven, who tells of growing up as a religious Jew in New York and his first meaningful encounter with a Hasidic Jewish boy, when they are both 16.

It came during a fierce game of baseball which Reuven likens to a “holy war.” And, after a nasty incident on the ball field (which is cleverly dramatized for the stage), Danny- his Hasidic antagonist- becomes Reuven’s best friend.

Max Wolkowitz, left, and Ben Edelman

The ways in which their friendship gets tested and their beliefs (sometimes similar and sometimes quite different) make up a significant portion of the story as the boys’ circumstances- and personalities- both change as they grow to become men.

Max Wolkowitz is solid and convincing as Reuven, our teenage narrator and main character. And the twists and turns to his relationship with Danny, as played by Ben Edelman, is generally fascinating theater.

Reuven’s relationship with his father, played by Steven Skybell in a strong, heartfelt performance, shows them having warm as well as passionate exchanges- and even some healthy differences of opinion.

Steven Skybell, left, and Max Wolkowitz

These differ sharply with the scenes of Danny and his Rabbi father, played too quietly by George Guidall, the revered leader of his congregation and the community. I say “too quietly” because he is often hard to hear, which doesn’t fit the character of a man the community is said to be in awe of his commanding presence and when he speaks. His voice simply doesn’t project well enough to be convincing.

If it did, it would also help contrast with how he is raising his son: which is in silence. Oh, he speaks with the other members of their family (who we don’t get to see) and he speaks to Reuven- a lot- but not directly to Danny.

Late in the play he explains why he raised Danny in silence- but, frankly, it isn’t an explanation I could believe.

Still, we aren’t meant to agree with him. His character is there to set up much of the conflict and it shapes Reuven’s observations of how two seemingly conflicted ideas can co-exist, which is a key theme of the play.

l to r: George Guidall, Ben Edelman and Max Wolkowitz. All cast photos by T. Charles Erickson

And, when Reuven’s father gives a speech in favor of a Jewish state (which would eventually become Israel), Danny’s father “excommunicates” Reuven so Danny is no longer able to associate with Reuven at all. Like an “old school” style of tough love.

Also “old school” is the lack of women characters in the play. But that would be a separate- and lengthy- discussion. Still, I couldn’t help noticing it.

That aside, Edelstein’s direction moves the play well through the first act but slows down somewhat in Act 2.

Also, in Act 1,there is some nice stagecraft in how they simulate a batted baseball and that’s pure fun to watch. I also felt the lighting, set and period costumes were all top shelf.

Overall, this is a solid, worthy production, which Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok adapted from Potok’s novel, and I choose to give ‘The Chosen’ 3-and-a-half stars out of 5.

‘The Chosen’ runs at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven through December 17th. Visit Long Wharf dot org for more info.

Catch my reviews right here this time each week and on my Facebook page and website, Katz Reviews dot com, that’s K-A-T-Z Reviews dot com, where you will find all my WICC 600 reviews.

This is Ed Katz talking theater for WICC 600!”

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