Contradictory, and worth the choice
You learn the lesson of The Chosen right at the beginning of the play: “Both these, and these, are the words of the living God.”
The phrase from the Hebrew Talmud is interpreted to mean that two contradictory ideas can be true at the same time. It threads through In Tandem’s production, and it describes the play itself. The Chosen’s irritating elements — such as extensive, overbearing narration and a glacial pace — are also the play’s strength.
The powerful depiction of its characters, both as written and as performed, resolves the dilemma and traces to the origin of the play. Aaron Posner adapted Chaim Potok’s 1967 novel, and Chris Flieller directed. The story spans five years in the 1940s and focuses on the sons of two very different Jewish families. Reuven Malter (Matt Daniels) leads the present-day journey through the past. He narrates the tale of how his younger self (Eric Schabla) meets Hasidic boy Danny Saunders (Andrew Bosworth).
Their paths cross first in a fateful baseball game. The game ends with a painfully slo-mo account of Danny hitting a ball directly into Reuven’s face. Such gimmickry is discarded shortly thereafter, though; after the two meet again in the hospital, the play shifts into an extended series of arguments, both theological and practical.
World events naturally drive some of the plot elements, the most dramatic being the death of President Roosevelt and the discovery of the Holocaust. But most of the play revolves around the choices of the chosen themselves, and how they learn from each other’s families. Even before the events of the play, Danny has been secretly reading secular books under David’s quasi-guidance. Reuven meets Rabbi Saunders, who gives him a chance to expand his knowledge of the Talmud.
These interactions, and those between the fathers and sons, form the play’s backbone. They’re painful to watch at times—a credit to the emotional range of the actors, especially Tasse and Watson—but entrancing.
Daniels’ narrative monologues, however, are long, pedantic vestiges of the novel, forced onto the play to maintain the chronological flow. On the other, hand, they entrance in their own way. Daniels’ natural charisma carrying the audience along with him despite the length.
Ironically, we’re supposed to walk away with silence and awareness of its power. And again, while its ever-present narration impresses upon us a begrudging appreciation for words, the pauses and hushes give The Chosen its power. “These and these,” at work.
The Chosen is not a play about doublethink. Not a single character walks out of the play with a contradictory mindset, although the boys’ have changed considerably. But they all walk out with an appreciation of the others’ point of view, which might be more important than having perspectives of their own.
In Tandem’s production of The Chosen runs through March 25 at the Tenth Street Theatre. Tickets are $22 or $26, and can be purchased at (414) 271-1371 or the online box office.