There are universal truths about best friends. They trust each other, confide to one another and create strong bonds that often last for a lifetime. Adapted from Chaim Potok’s novel and adapted for the stage by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok, The Chosen shows how two enemies become best friends. Two Jewish fathers and their sons are at the heart of this play. One father and son are Hasidic Jews while the other father and son are Modern Orthodox Jews. Though both pairs are Jewish, they are worlds apart when it comes to practices and philosophies. The Hasidic Jews dress in traditional black coats and hats and are distinguished by their payot, curled sideburns. The Modern Orthodox Jews are in contemporary dress and since the play is set in 1944, the clothes are appropriate for that time period.
The two boys are avid baseball players and play on opposite teams. Reuven Malter is about to pitch to Danny Saunders, when Reuven asks the hitter why he always hits hard and straight at the pitcher. Danny’s response is a devious smile. The pitch is made and “whack” the ball his Reuven right in the eye resulting in hospitalization and nearly blinding Reuven for life. What works so well here is that baseballs are actually pitched into a screen on stage and hit the screen fast and hard. Once the audience is accustomed to the sight and sound of this action, when the fateful hit is made it sounds like a fast, hard ball hitting Reuven.
Danny visits Reuven and asks for forgiveness. They become friends. What is a true friend? Here it means “two people with one soul.” Danny’s father wants his son to become a rabbi and follow in his father’s footsteps. Instead of affection, the father offers his son lectures. Reuven’s father, David Malter, is a writer and Jewish scholar. However, Reuven’s dad is also a Zionist who wants Israel to exist. Danny’s father, Reb Saunders does not want that. Therefore in addition to the differences in Jewish practice, political issues are also at odds in this insightful and thoughtful production.
What makes this play so perfect for Hanukkah and any holiday season is that it acknowledges differences and respects difference. With Danny visiting Reuven at the hospital several times and asking for forgiveness, there’s hope that the boys will become and remain friends. They share experiences with each other and learn from each other. They hope that each other will have a good life. What better message for the holidays than hope? Hope and friendship go a long way towards peaceful relationships.
The cast is outstanding. Ben Edelman plays Danny; George Guidall plays Reb Saunders. Max Wolkowitz plays Reuven and Steven Skybell plays David Malter. All deliver memorable professional performances. Also in the play are actors playing less than memorable students. They include: Joshua Dill, Robert Halliwell, Griffin Kulp and Nathan Tracy.
There are many challenging moments for the two main characters. Reuven’s father has a heart attack. Danny tells his father that he does not want to become a rabbi. In spite of the challenges and differences, they all come to recognize the truth of the words repeated throughout the play when it comes to knowing how to reconcile differences and how to understand how opposing beliefs can exist in the same sphere: “Both These and These.”
Directed by Gordon Edelstein, the play runs through Dec. 17 at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven. Box office: 203-787-4282.
Joanne Greco Rochman is a founder and former member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]