My Name Is Asher Lev: What does it take to be an artist? What is the artist’s responsbility?

My Name Is Asher Lev: “You have a responsibility. Do you know what that responsibility is?” the art teacher (Mark Nelson) asks his student, an art prodigy who is also an Orthodox Jew (Ari Brand)

“As working, and sometimes non-working, actors, we’re focused on paying the bills. It’s only in the rehearsal room and on the stage that we can remember why we do all this. Because of the art. Because of the thrill of creation.”

So actor Ari Brand told me in  my article for Playbill about the play, “My Name Is Asher Lev,” opening tonight at the Westside Theater. The play itself holds special interest for those struggling to be artists, or those struggling with the issues they confront as artists of any kind.

Directed by Gordon Edelstein and adapted by playwright Aaron Posner from the best-selling novel by Chaim Potok. “My Name is Asher Leve” stars Brand as Asher, a boy who grows up in Brooklyn with the gift for drawing, and a passion for art. The problem is that his parents, members of a Hasidic Jewish community, disapprove of this activity. Playing Asher’s religious parents and all other characters are Mark Nelson and (the unfortunately-named) Jenny Bacon. (Bacon is understudied by Naama Potok, Chaim Potok’s daughter, whom I also interviewed for the Playbill article.)

As the show’s slogan puts it, the play depicts “one boy’s struggle between tradition and art.” One of the scenes in which that struggle is represented is when the rebbe (the leader of the Hasidic sect to which his family belongs) sends Asher to apprentice with a well-regarded older artist named Kahn.

Kahn: You have a gift, Asher Lev. You have a responsibility. Do you know what that responsibility is?

Asher: Um, I don’t know.

Kahn: Do you feel you are responsible to anyone? Anything?

Asher: To my people

Kahn: What people?

Asher: The Jewish people

Kahn: Ahhh.. Why do you think you are responsible to the Jewish people?

Asher: All Jews are responsible, one to the other. It is in the Talmud. My father…

Kahn: As an artist you are responsible to no one and nothing except to yourself and to the truth as you see it! An artist is responsible to his art! To his art! Just that. Anything else is propaganda.


Do you agree?


About New York Theater
Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

3 Responses to My Name Is Asher Lev: What does it take to be an artist? What is the artist’s responsbility?

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