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Chosen people

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A battery of tests faces Reuven (Chris Moses) and Danny (Keland Scher), the unlikely young buddies of The Chosen. In the theatrical version of Chaim Potok's novel, staged by Jewish Theatre of the South, the two face tests of athleticism, of learning, of family loyalties, of religious faith and mostly of their friendship.

The Chosen's nostalgic setting can seem overly familiar: Has any time and place from America's last century been more thoroughly remembered than pre- and post-war New York? And with scenes turning on differing opinions of Talmudic scholarship, The Chosen may be forbidding to some audiences. But the script, directed by Jessica Phelps West, is so well calibrated to dramatic situations that it becomes unexpectedly engrossing.

Reuven as an adult (an ingratiating Barry Stewart Mann) describes his relationship with Danny, from their pure loathing on opposing baseball teams to their initially wary friendship. Danny's Hassidic background proves highly exotic to Reuven -- and through his eyes, to the audience, as well. Danny's father Reb Saunders (Marshall Marden, intimidating and wry) isn't just a community rabbi, but one who commands a cult-like devotion, and Danny has misgivings at being groomed to follow in his footsteps. Scher does a fine job conveying the forces -- conservative background, hungry intellect, teenaged emotions -- that shape Danny's character.

Reuven's father is also a community leader, an outspoken columnist (Allen O'Reilly) with a heart condition. At times, The Chosen lapses into the predictable dynamics of father-and-son I-don't-know-how-to-talk-to-him plays. (And despite the ample size of the stage, the blocking can be strangely cramped.) But The Chosen rises above such constraints and proves to be more than a nostalgia piece, but an exploration of faith, friendship and choices.

The Chosen plays through Nov. 11 at Jewish Theatre of the South, Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody. 8 p.m. Thurs. and Sat., 3 and 7 p.m. Sun. $20-24. 770-368-7469.

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