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Play explores conflict between one’s art and religion

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Jonas Chernick

My Name is Asher Lev tells the story of a young Jewish artist in the 1950s, who is torn between his chassidic upbringing and his desperate need to fulfill his creative promise.

“Asher Lev discovers at a very young age that he is a prodigy, a brilliant visual artist in painting and drawing,” explains  Jonas Chernick, the writer, filmmaker and multi-award winning actor who plays him.

“Of course, that is in conflict with his religion. “

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The play was written by Aaron Posner, adapted from Chaim Potok’s acclaimed novel. This co-production of Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company and Studio 180. also stars Ron Lea and Sarah Orenstein, and is directed by Studio 180’s co-founder and artistic director Joel Greenberg.

“One of the things Asher Lev does early on is develops his ability to draw nudes and eventually crucifixions, which are essential for the mastery of the craft and the understanding of the history of art, but aren’t very Jewish. The essential conflict of the story is the contrast between the drive to pursue your artistic and emotional truth and how that can be opposed to by your upbringing and family.”

Chernick says there are no easy answers to the questions that the story asks. He says that in addition to being really entertaining, funny, emotional and charming, the play makes you think.

The Winnipeg born, Toronto-based actor says he can relate to the dilemma the character faces.

“I’ve kind of had to face this demon myself. The pursuit of my art and my truth will sometimes take me to places that may not be easy for me to explain to my wife and kids,” he explains.

“ In 2012, I wrote, starred in and produced a film called My Awkward Sexual Adventure. It is a very explicit comedy and there are some very embarrassing things that I do in the movie, and that wasn’t easy. I have two young daughters (Izzy, 8, and Zoe, 4) that haven’t seen it, but are going to ask about it one of these days.

“I have to ask if it is worth it and how committed am I to this truth and am I willing to alienate people because of it.  So, I do relate to the character of Asher Lev on that level.”

Chernick says that being Jewish has helped hone his craft. “When I was nine, I started Camp Massad, outside of Winnipeg. It is a Jewish camp that happens to be a very artistic camp with a great focus on drama. That is where I first acted, wrote and directed a play. All of my early experiences with acting and storytelling were at Camp Massad.  It was an amazingly, nurturing environment.  It gave me confidence and allowed me to develop skills that are absolutely helpful to my career now.  So I have that to thank for being Jewish.”

Chernick says acting is his number one passion, the writing, producing and directing is in service of his acting.  He says that if he could just be an actor, that’s what he would be, but sadly an actor spends a lot of time waiting for their agent to call. So out of impatience and passionate ambition, he started writing roles for himself and producing them so they got made and he could act.

Chernick won the 2015 Canadian Screen Award for his performance on CBC’s The Best Laid Plans  and has starred in the award-winnning film Borealis. He also co-wrote and starred in the award winning feature film Lucid. His recent roles include the films Blood Pressure, How to Plan an Orgy in A Small Town and the upcoming A Swingers Weekend. He has appeared on TV in  Fargo, Private Eyes, Covert Affairs and Dark Matter.

My name is Asher Lev runs from Nov. 4 to 26 at The Greenwin Theatre, Toronto Centre for the Arts. Tickets online at www.hgjewishtheatre.com, or by calling Ticketmaster at 1-855-985-2787, or in person at the box office of the Toronto Centre for the Arts. 

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