The 2015 season of the Circle Theatre in Fort Worth consists of five contemporary plays, beginning with “My Name is Asher Lev.” This play is Aaron Posner’s adaptation of Chaim Potok’s novel of the same name. It is about a young Hasidic Jew who has a gift for art that conflicts with his family and religion. According to Rose Pearson, Circle Theatre’s executive producer, the play raises several questions.
“How do you fashion a good life around being an artist and still respond to what is your God-given calling?” she asked. “How are you a good Hasidic Jew, who does not believe that art is God’s calling, and also answer for the fact that God gave you this wonderful gift?”
Circle Theatre’s second feature of the season, Lauren Gunderson’s “I and You,” is directed by Krista Scott.
“Audiences are growing older and older and older and they’re not getting people to replace them,” said Scott. Scott described the play as a dark comedy about two high school seniors who butt heads as they work on their final project.
The cast is comprised of two teenagers who form an unlikely friendship: a bitter girl with a terminal illness and “a chip on her shoulder” and an athletic boy who loves jazz and poetry. The racial diversity of the characters adds a cultural aspect to the barrier between them that is slowly broken down as they connect over Walt Whitman.
“The college students, I think, are going to really relate to it,” Scott said. “As far as, how do you deal with personal issues and the pressures of academia?”
The season also features “Mass Appeal” by Bill C. Davis, a play that challenges Catholic doctrines in the conflicts that arise between an orthodox pastor and a seminarian with radical ideas.
The director, Alan Shorter, said that the young seminarian is well-intentioned, but idealistic.
“[He] does not have much tolerance for what he sees as out-of-date and out-of-touch behavior in the church,” he said.
This causes tension when he interacts with the older priest, who Shorter described as “very comfortable and protective of his lifestyle.” Shorter said the play deals with the extremes of conservatism and liberalism in the Church and how to navigate them.
“Do we accept new ideas or do we do things in a different way?” Shorter said. “It’s sometimes not always about what’s being done but how it’s being done.”
Pearson said that unlike a traditional theater, the arena-style 125-seat theater “feels like you’re in a living room, or in a room with the people in the show. It very, very intimate.”
It is ideal for introducing the works of burgeoning playwrights that the company brings to the Fort Worth community.
“One of the main things that Circle Theatre is all about is the playwright,” Pearson said. “We have a tendency to find playwrights and try to bring more than one of their works to town.”
The fourth feature, “Lovers and Executioners” by John Strand, is the Charles MacArthur Award-winning tale of attempted murder by a husband who discovers his wife’s infidelity and her subsequent revenge.
“[Director Robin Armstrong] is a very gifted farcical director and it takes a very special person to direct a good farce,” Pearson said.
Shorter commented on the range of plays that audiences have come to expect from the Circle Theatre.
“They look for a balance of comedies to dramas to musicals so their audience will go see all their shows and have a varying experience throughout the whole season,” he said.
“My Name is Asher Lev” runs Jan. 29 to March 7, and will feature a university night with $5 student tickets and $10 professor tickets on February 6.