Wednesday June 20, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Change and tradition are uneasy partners in "Fiddler on the Roof," that grand and deservedly enduring musical that is opening Barrington Stage Company's Mainstage season in a generally respectable production that, like the society it depicts, is often at conflict with itself.

The winds of change blow hard in "Fiddler on the Roof." They are bearing down on the village of Anatevka and seem to be taking dead aim at the home of a dairyman named Tevye (Brad Oscar in a hugely problematic performance) who struggles mightily to make a life for his family: his wife, Golde, and their five daughters, three of whom are of marriageable age and will insist on breaking tradition by choosing their own respective husbands. It is 1905 and also blowing in the wind are seeds of revolution.

In interviews, director Gary La Rosa has discussed tradition and change in approaching this near-perfect musical and particularly its iconic lead character, Tevye

But if La Rosa's definition of change is Oscar's loud, insistent, charmless, truculent, unwelcoming Tevye then we are left with a case of change merely for the sake of change.

Oscar's intense, high-volume railing, right from the outset, leaves him nowhere to go as the stakes grow higher for Tevye as, one by one, his marriageable daughters chart their own course, especially his youngest, who leaves family and faith to marry a Russian.

A man of sound and fury that signifies little, there is nothing welcoming in Oscar's Tevye; little that is warm and even less that is inviting. The heart of his Tevye, the soul, are strangers, unknowns, invisible.

It says a great deal about the blend of Joseph Stein's book, Jerry Bock's music and Sheldon Harnick's lyrics, together with Darren Cohen's musical direction and the cast La Rosa has placed around Oscar that his failing (standing ovation at Sunday's press opening notwithstanding) doesn't bring the show down.

n

Chief among the production's strengths is Joanna Glushak's formidable Golde -- firm, commanding, a rock. Golde's personality is echoed in Stephanie Lynne Mason's strong-willed, passionate Hodel, who chooses to marry a radical political activist and teacher named Perchik, played by Alexander Levin with a fine blend of commitment, idealism, compassion and a sense of irony.

There also are effective performances by Rebecca Kuznick as Tzeitel, the oldest daughter; Colin Israel as Motel, the taiilor she wants to marry; and Jason Simon as Lazar Wolf, a butcher who has arranged to marry Tzeitel through the efforts of the community matchmaker, Yente (Rachel Coloff in a performance that nudges
caricature); and Andrew Mayer as The Fiddler, whose resonance stahds as an ironic contast to Brad Oscar's
dissonance.

To reach Jeffrey Borak:
jborak@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6212.
On Twitter: @BE_Theater