Review by Danny Gaisin
Plus an Exclusive to Ontario Arts Review
Did you hear about the dyslexic Rabbi? No, you didn’t – “YO Vey!”
A ‘bissele’* history: – Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe coincided with either expulsions or escapees from pogroms that started in the 1860’s and only ended with Lenin’s declarations after the 1917 revolution. My own family was driven from Gaisin (Ukraine) in the 1890’s, about 20 years before the Rabinovich clan left Pereyaslav (Kiev) about 150 miles further north. Sol Rabinovich, writing under the nom de plume Sholem Aleichem, captured the daily customs, hardships, struggles and Chassidic traditions of the shtetl in numerous stories – many of which were autobiographical. Photo courtesy of Fred Loek, “Miss’a News”
The Stein/ Bock/ Harnick musical interpretation of one such story was first staged by Jerome Robbins in 1964 and ran on forever. The concept of trying to maintain traditional mores in the face of evolving times resounded with other cultures thus the play has been successfully translated into myriad languages. STAGE WEST has brought back Max Reimer to direct what is a superb adaptation that captures the atmosphere and even the essence of Lantsmenshaft * that was and still is a mainstay of the Jewish experience. Reimer’s reputation for attention to detail is naturally discernible and his directorial emphasis ranges from subtle to dynamic. He underlines the historically true relationship between teacher ‘Perchick’ and daughter no. 2 – ‘Hodel’. Permitting a rather long explanation for ‘Yente’s’ intention to go to Palestine (Israel) reveals the author’s staunch Zionism even before the movement became mainstream. Max, you’ve captured the ‘Ta’am’* of Chassidic Judaism.
Briefly, the story is about a devout but poor milkman – Tevye, who has five daughters. Steeped in ‘Tradition’, he must face; adapt, accept & finally reject his offspring’s evolving inclinations. The oldest wants to marry her boyfriend- not accept a pre-arranged match; the second leaves home to follow her Bolshevik (Hovevey Tzion*) revolutionary teacher incarcerated in Siberia. The third marries a kind and compassionate Cossack in an Eastern Orthodox ceremony.
In the starring role, George Masswohl captures the substance of ‘pater familias’ who sees authority eroding. A powerful voice determinedly belts out the thematic ‘Tradition’ and then conversely a plaintive prayer about preferring to be ‘a Rich Man’ and how it would ameliorate his life. Tevye is the pivot-point of ‘Fiddler’ and Masswohl gives him all the angst, frustration and hope that the original story imbues. His strong-willed wife is portrayed by Denise Oucharek who demonstrates all the fortitude and strength of character that epitomized Jewish women of that era. Their duet “Do you love me” expresses a pathos that is tangible, while her Sabbath Prayer is both touching and true to our rituals.
The three oldest daughters are played by Gabi Epstein, Amy Wallis & Nicole Norsworthy. All possess pleasing voices with pure diction that projects Harnick’s clever & memorable lyrics. Their suitors (pun intended) are Jon Alex MacFarlane as the tailor; Eric Craig is the travelling teacher and Graham Cardiff Parkhurst is Fyedka, who elopes with daughter 3. All confer major support and their contributions are intrinsic and effective. The other cast members all give full measure and there are no weak characterizations.
The set design by Samantha Burson is convincing; the clever lighting and perspective gives enormity to the stage’s physical limitations. Having the Church spire imposing itself over the little ghetto area is an effective feature that reflects the relative influences of both religions. Costumes and makeup also ring of authenticity. There is a ballet sequence that has Norsworthy perform behind a diaphanous curtain… impact is both memorable and touching. Other chorus sequences such as the ‘bottle dance’ and the customary Ukrainian Cherkosia (or Krakoviak) dance were choreographed by Reimer and add to the visual delight that this version presents.
A visit to STAGE WEST is always a treat because of its super Buffet. Something new has been added. The chef now has some favorite items selected by such theatre luminaries as Loretta Swit; Bernie Kopell; Jamie Farr, and others. We tried all of them and agree with their tastes. FIDDLER ON THE ROOF’s Anatevka can be located at Matheson & Dixie until April 21st.
EXCLUSIVE to O.A.R.: Just learned, after twisting Dino Roumel’s arm, that AVENUE Q will be dropped, and instead “GAME SHOW”, starring Charles Shaughnessy (Max Sheffield on “The Nanny”), will open in late April. FYI, Shaughnessy is an actual British Baron!
* “Fiddler on Roof”, Eur. phrase, Surviving under duress by gaiety & music
Bisselle yid. A small portion; little morsel
Lantsmenshaft, yid. Community or background
Hovevey Tzion, heb. ‘Lovers of Zion’
Ta’am, yid. Taste; conceptual feeling