Monday, December 17, 2018

The National Yiddish Theatre's Fiddler

"The Fiddler" by Marc Chagall (1912)
Remember hating your parents and their friends self-satisfyingly talking about Fiddler when you were a rebellious teenager? Even though you heard it was based on Sholom Aleichem, it was just one more Broadway musical frequented by the old folks. If you were going to see a show, let it be Oh! Calcutta! or Hair. But what an eye opener to see the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene's revival at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (the current run is sold out but it’s moving uptown to Stage 42). Perhaps it’s the authenticity conveyed by the fact that the production is in Yiddish and you start off with “ist das ein leben?" "Is this a life?" Perhaps you’re warmed by phrases like “meshugganah gedanken.” But the real crux lies in the iconic title song. “Tradition” is what Tevye (Steven Skybell) the famed character is not doing a very good job of upholding. The world is falling apart around him. From a dialectical point of view it’s not only the incipient liberation of his daughters, but the prospect of revolution itself that looms on the horizon. Like a lot of Russian based literature, by the way, Fiddler has its revolutionary student, its Bazarov, in the form of Pertshik (Drew Seigla) who breaks taboos by introducing the unheard of notion of romantic love and asking Tevye’s daughter Hodl (Stephanie Lynn Mason) to dance. Ironically the very means by which Jewish life created its own secularized literature and mythology, Yiddish, will preside over its own extinction.Yiddish would ultimately lead the way to cultural assimilation.The dissolution of the village creates the drama, but it’s the voice of freedom that’s the real enemy. The narrative presides over the development of consciousness and even though Tevye’s daughter Khave (Rosie Jo Neddy) does the unthinkable in marrying out of the faith, her father caves in and gives her his blessing. The melting pot and liberation that ultimately await these characters will eventually have them speaking English rather than their colorful native tongue. Don’t miss this Fiddler

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