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The Chosen — A Discussion Between Director Ed Sobel and Adaptor Aaron Posner

This fall, Arts Exchange audiences will have the opportunity to see a Midwest premiere adaptation of Chaim Potok's celebrated novel The Chosen, which follows the close friendship of two young Jewish boys growing up in the mid–1940s. What starts as a stare down between Reuven and Danny on the baseball field transforms into a unique and challenging friendship. Together, they are forced to better understand their fathers, their faith and themselves. This adaptation by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok will be staged by Steppenwolf's Director of New Play Development, Ed Sobel. Backstage brought Ed and Aaron together to discuss how the adaptation was created. Ed Sobel: What inspired you to adapt The Chosen? Aaron Posner: Basically, I was interested in doing something with Jewish themes because that was something I was interested in exploring for myself. I'd met Chaim because he had been coming to the Arden Theatre in Philadelphia [where Mr. Posner is resident director], and I had actually run into him in Chicago. A couple of weeks later, I decided to call him up and ask for advice on what Jewish works he thought might make good adaptations. I thought I should reread some of Potok's books before I talked to him, and I started with The Chosen. I read it and thought, oh my God, I don't need to look any further, this is amazing. The second time I read it, I realized this was a story of two fathers and two sons, and everything else could go. I called Chaim and presented him with my idea for the adaptation and told him that I would like his help with it. And that's sort of how it went ES: Let's talk about the adaptation. One of your inventions is to have the adult Reuven as the narrator.... AP: Well, it is and it isn't. The adult Reuven really is the narrative voice of the novel. Chaim was in his mid–thirties when he was writing the book, which is the age I suggested that the narrator should be. I thought that sensibility, the perspective of the adult looking back (but not looking way, way back) was sort of implicit in the structure of the book. It felt like a logical way of getting at the story ES: In other words, rather than deciding to strictly dramatize the events, you felt it was important to maintain an external narrative voice. AP: Yes. It was a helpful device to allow the piece to be played with only four other actors, because the narrator can play the other roles that are necessary. It was a way of keeping the focus on the dynamics between the two fathers and the two sons. Plus, there is a sort of plainness and straightforward honesty to Chaim's narrative, and his prose in general, that I thought was captured in the single narrator. ES: I'm particularly impressed by the way you were able to capture the whole world of the book: the sense of place in the Jewish communities and the atmosphere of the 1940s. Even with your limited canvas of those four central roles and a single narrator, it should be a remarkable experience for our audience. Committed to the principle of ensemble performance through the collaboration of a company of actors, directors and playwrights, Steppenwolf Theater Company's mission is to advance the vitality and diversity of American theater by nurturing artists, encouraging repeatable creative relationships, and contributing new works to the national canon. The company, formed in 1976 by a collective of actors, is dedicated to perpetuating an ethic of mutual respect and the development of artists through on–going group work. Steppenwolf has grown into an internationally renowned company of thirty–five artists whose talents include acting, directing, playwriting, filmmaking, and textual adaptation.