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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

review of The Chosen at Barrington Stage

The Chosen at Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, Mass.  by Bob Goepfert

PITTSFIELD, Mass. - “The Chosen,” playing at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Mass. through Aug. 3, is a play about the Jewish culture but its primary themes are universal and timeless.

Those themes have to do with father and son relationships, friendships between opposites, modern ideas versus traditional dogma, and the idea of discovering one’s identity in order to live a fruitful life.

Most of all, “The Chosen” insists that even within opposites there are common truths which should permit men of good will to work together for a common cause.  As a character quotes from the Talmud, “Both those and those are the words of God.”  He goes on to explain that even those things that appear to contradict – can each be true.

In “The Chosen” those contradictions are illustrated by two religious Jewish father and son families who live in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn in the 1940s. 

The Malters are modern orthodox Jews; the Saunders Hasidic Jews.  Both men are leaders who want a better world for their followers, but disagree on the best way to obtain that goal.  The sons, who become close friends, are devoted to their fathers.  They struggle to be obedient while finding a life that satisfies their own ambitions.

The conflict in approach acerbates when World War II ends and the extent of the Holocaust is revealed.  It is heightened when each man takes a different stance on establishing the state of Israel. The Zionist Malter believes men must be active or their faith and culture will disappear.  Reb Saunders believes man interfering with God’s will is heresy.

Though the play is dense with provocative themes director Aaron Posner (who with Potok adapted the material for the stage) keeps the human element of the story the focus of the presentation. 

The struggles of Reuven Malter (Jeff Cuttler) and David Saunders (Adam Heller) are touching as each young man is in conflict as they are torn between adhering to a dogma that is in conflict with the secular world in which they exist. 

The fathers (Ben Rosenbach as Malter and Richard Schiff as Saunders) are each committed to their own truths wise and child raising. However, is loiving enough to realize that a successful child is not a clone, rather one who honors and lives the values they were taught.

Making the work theatrical is the character representing Reuven Malter as an mature man (Richard Topol).  This device not only gives us a narrator and a person to play several other characters, but the use of this invested but distanced observer brings the play out of its time to make it a memory play.

“The Chosen” is a marvelously acted play performed on a suggestive set designed by Meghan Raham that unites the character’s search for knowledge while expressing the isolation of their existence. It is memorable theater.

“The Chosen” plays at Barrington Stage, 30 Union Street, Pittsfield, Mass.  through August 3.  For schedule and ticket information 413-236-8888,


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