The cast of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, Photo by Joan Marcus.
By now you have read the glowing reviews of Bartlett Sher‘s re-envisioning of the classic FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. The approach is one of reinvention by revising the intentions of the text. No longer is “Matchmaker” a saccharin, young female fantasy, it is now used to cheer up a very frightened sister. The dance numbers are not performed with Broadway finesse, but rather with a roughness added to the dazzle that has you believing these are real people, really dancing to celebrate. The jokes are delivered as a humorous part of everyday speech, not with the crass “get a laugh” intention of previous incarnations of FIDDLER. Led by the hugely talented Danny Burstein (bravo to the producers for putting him in the star role) and one of our finest actresses Jessica Hecht, these feel like real people facing real problems. Everything resonates that much deeper.
And then you have the prologue and addendum. As a secular Jew, it just slayed me. We are living in a divided country, at a time where the majority of Jews are non-practicing, where our idea of celebrating Judaism is to have a seder with friends, but without the haggadah, where we are privileged to redefine our beliefs on our own terms, but this also takes us another step away from our heritage. Rarely do we look back at our ancestry and place ourselves in the long line of survivors adapting to a tenuous future. And that’s what this glorious production has gifted to us; it adds a new definition to the term “Tradition” as a remembrance, a memorial, a Yizkor.
I have seen Tony LoBianco, Anthony LaPaglia and Liev Schreiber play the lead character Eddie in A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE so going into the current Young Vic production, I thought I knew the play and the emotional arc we would be travelling. Boy was I wrong. I had heard about all the stage artiface (performed in a square with audience on stage, barefoot and no props) and assumed that director Ivo van Hove is using some historic theatrical style to tell the story (as Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe did so beautifully with Brechtian style in THE NORMAL HEART in 2011). Again, I was wrong.
What Mr. van Hove has done is reinforce the fact that this is a memory play, without time lines drawn, centering on the emotional reality of text, not on the physical reality. This allows him to create moments of art on the stage that are stunning and breathtaking; he isn’t constrained to what might actually, physically happen. He also believes in the character of Eddie more than I think even Arthur Miller did. And in doing so, there is a level of tragedy you haven’t seen in this script before.
This is an incredible theatrical event. I hope I get to see it again.