Fiddler on the Roof; Sholom Aleichem--Now You're Talking! | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Fiddler on the Roof; Sholom Aleichem--Now You're Talking! 

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FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, Drury Lane Oakbrook, and SHOLOM ALEICHEM--NOW YOU'RE TALKING!, Chicago Jewish Theatre, at Red Hen Productions. In Ray Frewen's warmly shaped revival of the classic musical, Sholom Aleichem's Jewish hamlet, Anatevka, becomes one collective character, its eccentricities akin to the contradictions of a single soul. Over a mere year this shtetl faces more choices--and a fatal lack thereof--than any community should have to confront. In a microcosm of that changing world, dairyman Tevye, his five daughters, and his tough-loving wife contend with marriage proposals both welcome and unwelcome. A final expulsion from the village caps all the challenges, which test not just the means but the end of survival.

Recalling Brian Dennehy's purposefully matter-of-fact manner, Craig Spidle's laid-back Tevye seems more California rancher than Jewish peddler. Still, Spidle delivers the pathos of a reluctant patriarch, his appeals to God increasingly desperate as he comes to resemble Job more than Solomon. The rest of the characters--notably Iris Lieberman's flinty Golde, Renee Matthews's ebullient matchmaker, and Jonathan Raviv's hopeful tailor--are as vibrant as if they'd just stepped out of a Chagall.

British actor-director Saul Reichlin brings Sholom Aleichem, who created other dreamers besides the resilient Tevye, to blessed life in a two-hour one-man tribute. Reichlin's delight in Aleichem's characters shines through these "windows on shteltl life," revealing the tenacious denizens of imaginary Kasrilevke. (This is a town that can truthfully promise Rothschild, the world's richest Jew, eternal life if he moves there because "No rich man ever died in Kasrilevke.") These turn-of-the-century tales of "foolishness, misfortune and the love of life" are rich with Yiddish survivor humor and magic realism.

Along with Tevye, whose poverty is more detailed than in the musical, we meet Menachem Mendel, a miserably unsuccessful matchmaker, as well as a hunger artist (sardonically named Rothschild), a slew of uncles dispensing Hanukkah rubles, and rabbis and merchants who debate by means of antagonistic anecdotes. Always there are the dead--plus the dead drunk and the dead hungry. Reichlin loves them all as much as their author did.

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