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So we all got dressed up and went to see FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at Arena Stage on Thursday evening, our last theater-going expedition of the semester. What did we make of it?
Almost everyone seeing this classic show (celebrating its 50th anniversary) for the first time; many unfamiliar with the show’s iconic songs, one after another they roll out, stupendously, in one of the most amazing first act collection of songs in Broadway history (how’s that for stating the obvious?)… What did we make of book-ending the semester with two musicals——YENTL and FIDDLER——that tell us something about the dynamics of community; of classic story telling (both shows adapted from classic stories by legendary Jewish authors IB Singer and Sholom Aleichem, respectively); plays about marriage, tradition, modernity, and exile. What to make of the portraits we’ve seen on DC stages of the Jewish experience, from FIDDLER, to YENTL, to AWAKE AND SING, to BAD JEWS? That’s quite a trajectory! Who wants to make some meaning of it?
I open the blog up to these wonderful students who’ve invested so much of themselves in these comments these past 3 months. Perhaps there’ll be one more posting opportunity to reflect on the larger picture — Theater at the cross-roads — Theater approaching the end of a calendar year — Theater aspiring to climb new heights and to remain relevant… Yes, we’ll give ourselves another opportunity to reflect more deeply on the art form and our institutions approaching a new year… For now, we look back and look at the production of a piece of heritage brought lovingly back to us for our entertainment and enlightenment… FIDDLER lives! Let’s appreciate what it still can do so masterfully.
The review round-up here showcases local reviewers largely rising to task of wrapping language around Tony Kushner’s high octane gathering of smart progressives problem solving the impending fall of their patriarch. The play is meeting up with hugely enthusiastic audiences following Tuesday night’s triumphant opening.
Here’s an aggregate of the first wave of reviews, from…
– The Washington Post (And this kinda sums up the thematic dart to the heart of the play in one-fell-swoop) “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide” attempts to embody as well as illuminate a paralysis that is overtaking Gus’s children and the society at large, a slow-moving, money-fed decay that is neutralizing dissent, neutering the environment and smothering the working class.”
– Theatre Bloom 5 Stars from this pretty new (and obviously excellent) publication: “Penned to perfection with riveting plot sparks that expose deep vaults of emotional trauma the work is exceptional and divinity to the written and performance craft.”
– DC Metro Theatre Arts – 5 Stars – and this: “this show is a surfeit of surprise and substance, of significance and delight, of density and shimmering wit. And the long and the short of it is…don’t miss it.”
– Broadway World (and we’ll take a headline with “Wild and Rollicking” anytime!)
– CurtainUp – The most mixed review thus far, but even still, there’s this: “To say that Director John Vreeke has squeezed every last bit of emotion, vigor, and intensity out of his cast would be an understatement. Every actor is working at full tilt and all are a pleasure to watch. Even their physical gestures are memorable. Tom Wiggin’s Gus, Lou Liberatore’s Pill, Josh Adams’s Eli and James Whalen’s Adam are particularly strong. Lisa Hodsoll as Maeve is very funny indeed. Rena Cherry Brown as Zeeko has some of the most sardonic lines and she delivers them with dead-pan grace.”
– Maryland Theatre Guide A great shout-out to the set and scenic design: “Misha Kachman’s set is a good place to spend a few hours; its overstuffed bookcase denotes a life of reading (though it slants right instead of left). The cracks in the walls above the fireplace would denote fissures in the family as well, if they don’t crack open further when the angry son throws the bust of Italian patriot Garibaldi into it. Her brownstone facade floating ominously above them may be something you don’t notice until two hours in because of all the action on stage. The projections and sound of Jared Mezzocchi and Eric Shimelonis, respectively, perfectly frame the action and time. But there’s something timeless about the work of Kushner, brought to us in this stirring production, creating something that will stay with us.”
So that’s the first batch of reviews. The question I’ve posed to students — If, as we point out in early postings, Tony Kushner is paying homage to certain iconic American family dramas, how are those resonances manifesting themselves? Besides the aformentioned parallel between Gus and Jacob in Awake and Sing, in what ways does Kushner reference and spin and pay post-modern homage to some of our greatest American dramas?
Here’s just a partial list of some works that might come to mind as mash-up source material:
Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Clifford Odets’ Awake And Sing
Arthur Miller’s All My Sons or Death Of A Salesman
Tennessee Williams’ Cat On a Hot Tin Roof
Or, in a more contemporary vein
Tracy Lett’s August: Osage County
I’m interested to read how I-HO aspires to pay its due to the masterpiece(s) and how, to whatever extent, it succeeds in establishing itself as a new family powerhouse of a play.
With more Kushnerian musings to come.
It’s been a whirlwind week. Kushner came, he shared, he conquered. Read all about his benefit appearance and our MCCA celebration of his prodigiousness in film, prose, music and theater here in this amazing recounting of the rich full evening we presented on Monday, November 10.
By Thursday night, we were previewing The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide To Capitalism and Socialism With a Key To The Scriptures. Our running time is 20 minutes shorter than at Berkeley Rep. It’s an achievement, to have come up with such a different version in look and length from the West Coast premiere. And still we are in rehearsal; still we are refining our work; but the satisfaction in getting something manageable up there; something controllable and refine-able… is profound. Our great work continues.