The Chosen, @ Milwaukee Repertory; Directed By Aaron Posner

This play features only four characters, two fathers and their respective and respectful sons. They share a neighborhood and an abiding faith, but all four live in worlds apart. And the stories that come from that faith and family and love are the things that we are shown here can both unite and divide us, all at the same time…and that secrets can be powerful teachers or hurtful events but can seldom remain secrets for very long in close knit communities.

And no, despite the compelling graphic used to promote The Chosen, this isn’t actually a story about baseball. Baseball is an allegory here. And a way to introduce the characters and bring two of their worlds together…and to show the influence of ‘America’ on tradition based Old World communities. But it is not contemporary America…it is the America of the Second World War and milestone events from that period play a role in how our story unfolds.

Reuven Malter, Reb Saunders, Daniel Saunders. Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Worlds apart, or so it seems. Hasidic Rabbi Reb Saunders is the patriarch of a community that he has brought to America to escape the violence in their home nation. Rabbi Saunders is the sixth generation of his family to lead the community and his eldest son, Daniel, is expected to eventually take his place. And that other world is just a few blocks away, conservative, and is represented by David Malter, described here as an intellectual. He is know to the Saunders for his writing on faith and the law. And his son is Reuven Malter, a student of mathematics, and is expected to attend college and eventually become a college professor. Both families study the Torah and Talmud and are described as observant of the law. But there are always questions. They all are always questioning.

Rabbi Reb Saunders Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

The boys attend the appropriate religious schools and at some point during the war it apparently was decided that the schools would support baseball teams to show their mettle as Americans. And that brings us to that fateful day on the ball field when they meet for the first time and wind through an abundance of emotions that go well beyond the simple rivalry on the field. Until that calamitous moment on the field that eventually brings their worlds together and eventually sends them into different orbits. Always questioning.

Reuven Malter Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

A sub-topic here is bridges. But in the story, our major, active, bridge across all worlds is Reuven Malter. Initially and at other pivots in the action, as an adult, he explains the backstory and the key events as prelude and exposition. Within the action he acts as a bridge between Danny and Reb, between Danny and the secular world, between Hasid and Conservative narratives, and something of a mouthpiece for his father. But there are always questions. You probably won’t be surprised that as the boys grow to men and venture off to college together that they decide to follow different paths than those assigned to them.

Danny Saunders and Reuven Malter Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Aaron Posner adapted The Chosen with Chaim Potok from Potok’s book of the same name. It is certainly a bonus that Posner directs this presentation for the Milwaukee Repertory. His casting and direction are so incredibly spot on and the movement is so fluid that one has barely time to laugh at the humor or gasp at the horror or tear up for the sadness.

Ron Orbach is awesome as Reb Saunders, a seeming self-assured, direct, teacher and authoritarian for much of the play who then melts away to be the tender and understanding father. But he befuddles his son by his silence. His son, Danny, played by Hillel Rosenshine, who himself amazes as the youthful, wondering, and a bit fearful high school boy and aggressive ball player. His ball field nemesis and eventual best friend, Reuven, is played by Eli Mayer. And Mayer, also brings us an aggressive ball player, but the tender son…and the very adult and instructive narrator of the play. His father, David Malter, is played by Steve Routman, a firm but loving father, but someone who has a secret of his own that straddles these two worlds and helps bring the boys together.

Danny Saunders, David Malter, Reuven Malter, Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

I don’t want to give too much else away here but there are some history lessons to be learned and some social cues to be heeded. And yes, it resonates in 2024 despite be dated to 1944/45. And, yes, a story that should be experienced.

The Chosen runs at the Milwaukee Rep’s Quadracci Powerhouse main stage theater through March 31, 2024. Tickets and more information can be found here!

Extra Credit Readings: The Program and The Playguide

article © 2024 The New World Digs

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