The leap from page to stage for The Chosen (at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through November 17) is more of a hop. Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok's 1999 stage adaptation of Potok's 1967 coming-of-age novel is so faithful to its source that it feels more like a narration than a play. The central character is a bearded, bespectacled Reuven Malter recalling his Jewish teenage years in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, circa 1944-1948, and his Weltanschauung-expanding friendship with Hasidic fellow teen Danny Saunders. As the adult Reuven tells his story, fragments of the past come to life, beginning with the dueling-yeshivas baseball game that introduced him to Danny. But until the post-war revelation of the Holocaust in all its horror, the 1940s constitute a more innocent age than ours, and the heady earnestness of The Chosen reflects this. Watching Reuven and Danny's otherwise invisible teams go at it, I found myself wishing for the delicious irony of William Finn's Falsettos, with its bleacher full of spectators "watching Jewish boys who cannot play baseball play baseball."
Except that these Jewish boys can play baseball, as is evinced when hard hitter Danny, his prayer-shawl fringes dangling from beneath his black vest, bats a ball right into pitcher Reuven's eye — an event that precipitates first animosity and then an unlikely bond. Of course, The Chosen is not about America's favorite pastime. It's about fathers and sons, about finding one's own way in the world and in the faith, and about struggling through silence — imposed at one time or another on both boys by Danny's stern rabbi dad — towards compassion. At the Lyric, Daniel Gidron's delicately directed production dispenses this wisdom with warmth and even a smattering of humor.
Brynna Bloomfield's set manages to incorporate both the baseball diamond and the Torah. And the performances capture the intellectual religious fire and old-time sincerity of time and place. Charles Linshaw handles the narration with a rueful twinkle. Joel Colodner makes a fearsome patriarch, Will McGarrahan a more tender parent. And Zachary Eisenstat and Luke Murtha render young Reuven and Danny's struggles palpable. Still, Potok's maxim — that a word is worth one coin, silence two — makes for scant drama unless you are a mime.
THE CHOSEN :: Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon St, Boston :: Through November 17 :: $27-$58 :: 617.437.7172 or lyricstage.com
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