Fiddler on the Roof
"Fiddler on the Roof," at The Villa Playhouse Theatre
by Eric D. Snider
Published on June 2, 2000
What makes "Fiddler on the Roof" such a long-time favorite is that, even though its old-fashioned Jewish characters struggling to keep their traditions in the face of rapid change are far removed from most of our situations, the play has an emotional center that is universal. We all have had to accept changes that were beyond our control, most of us have wrestled with some aspect of our faith, and all parents have wondered how their children grew up so fast.
The Villa Playhouse production of "Fiddler," alas, keeps everything on the surface, never plunging into the emotions that should propel the action and keep the audience interested. The actors say the lines that indicate their feelings, but there is no sense that they actually have those feelings.
The result is that, while the large cast (40-plus people) sings and acts with vigor, the production is too silly -- almost farcical at times -- to take it very seriously. And at 2 hours and 45 minutes, it's too long not to be getting something out of it.
Some aspects are meant to be funny, of course. Tevye's (David Haenlein) conversations with God are charming bits, and his relationship with his wife, Golde (Joyce Booth), is only intended to be romantic or sweet when they sing "Do You Love Me?" (which in this production really is a nice moment). And of course many songs like "To Life" should be extremely joyful and light-hearted.
The problem here is that nothing is ever less than light-hearted for more than a few moments. When Motel (Brian McFadyen) and Tzeitel (Esther Covington) approach Tevye about the possibility of breaking tradition and getting married without use of a matchmaker, the scene is sitcom-y and goofy. So when Tevye has his monologue and decides to let them go ahead, the decision seems too easy. Where was the huge internal struggle? Where was his balancing his love for his daughter with his devotion to tradition? The lines indicating such a conflict were there, but there was no conviction behind them -- plus we'd just seen three minutes of silliness immediately proceeding it, and the change in attitude is too abrupt.
Basically, this is "Fiddler on the Roof," played as a comedy, with brief bursts of seriousness that don't work because they're surrounded by too much levity, and because the actors keep being superficial, even when they're saying deep things. If that suits you, fine. I think it betrays the original intent of the show.
As usual at the Villa, lighting is a problem, too. Even when the stage is "fully lit," the sides are dark, and much action takes place there. They need to realize, also, that there are ways of signifying "night-time" besides just turning off most of the lights and making everyone act in the dark. For as light as this show is figuratively, it's far too dark literally.
The singing is strong throughout, and the actors are generally committed to what they're doing; there is some real talent here. This is community theater, and I don't mean to sound like I'm judging it by Broadway standards. But even community theater can avoid the pitfall of trying to create humor where it doesn't belong, and thereby failing to convey the show's real emotions.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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