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A CurtainUp Review

The Chosen
By Liz Keill

John Lloyd Young  & Paul Kropfl
John Lloyd Young & Paul Kropfl
Chaim Potok’s The Chosen has received a mesmerizing production at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn. The tale of two young Jewish boys, both living in Brooklyn in the wake of World War II, with its aftermath of the Holocaust, has enough conflict and rebellious yearnings to help us see how much we are influenced by our times and our parents.

Danny Saunders, played with intensity and a devouring lust for knowledge by John Lloyd Young, perfectly embodies the frustration of a young man who lives in the closed-off world of his Hasidic Jewish father, who is a rabbi. Reb Saunders believes in silence, especially around his son, and has little use for the Zionist state developing in Palestine. Theodore Bikel, while not having a strong speaking role, fills the stage with his presence. When he does explode in anger, he is truly intimidating.

As Danny grows up and questions the strict limitations of his faith, his father withdraws even more. Danny, it seems, wants to read the literature of contemporary writers and expand his mind to embrace the world. His craving for secular knowledge is one more step towards generational conflict.

As the plot unwinds, we see how these young boys meet in competing softball teams and later bond, how they go their separate ways, then rekindle their friendship during college. The play says a lot about forgiveness and relationships and coming of age.

Danny’s friend, Reuven Malter, comes from a less rigid background. Paul Kropfl gives the young man an air of exuberance, with growing insight that eventually leads him to become a rabbi. Ironically, that is the path Danny was expected to follow, but has chosen to become a psychologist instead. Both actors are thoroughly believable in their bond and conflicts. Early on, Danny slugs a ball that lands Reuven in the hospital. Despite that and the religious and political differences in their backgrounds, their friendship evolves.

Mitchell Greenberg appears as Reuven’s father, an Orthodox Jewish scholar who balances his faith with a broader world outlook . His gentle, tolerant views are a sharp contrast to Reb’s rigid morality. Richard Topol is the adult Reuven, who narrates the story, bringing the plot together. Occasionally Topol takes on the part of a coach or businessman, adding another dimension to the play.

Just five characters make up the cast in a play that is more words than action. In this case, however, the words reveal a spiritual battle of love and hate.

Based on Chaim Potok’s 1967 novel, the play was adapted by the author and Aaron Posner. Michael Anania’s fluid set is a handsome backdrop of dark wood bookshelves, desks and subdued lighting. In other hands than director David Ellenstein’s, this play could be static and boring. But here again, the characters are so grounded, so well defined that the conflicts and longings emerge in ways that challenge the audience.Playwright, Chaim Potok and Aaron Posner.

The Chosen
Adapted by Aaron Posner from Chaim Potok's novel of the same name
Director: David Ellenstein
Cast: Theodore Bikel (Reb Saunders), Mitchell Greenberg (David Malter), Paul Kropfl (Yong Reuven), Richard Topol (Adult Reuven), John Lloyd Young (Danny Saunders)
Set Design: Michael Anania
Costume Design: Ellis Tillman
Lighting Design: Michael J. Eddy
Sound Design – David R. Paterson & Steve Shapiro
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with intermission
Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ 07041.973-376-4343; on-line: www.papermill.
From 2/18/04 to 3/21/04
Reviewed by Liz Keill on Feb. 25

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