Port Tobacco Players Fiddler on the RoofBy Bob Ashby • Oct 7th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Port Tobacco Players: (Info) (Web)
Port Tobacco Players Theater, La Plata, MD
Through October 20th
2:45, with intermission
$17/$14 Seniors, Youth, Military
Reviewed October 5th, 2013
There are some sparkling moments and performances in Port Tobacco Players’ (PTP) production of Fiddler on the Roof. The fiddler himself (Jacob Traver) moves beautifully, making his part almost a dance role. Members of the male ensemble do themselves proud in the Russian dance and bottle dance. A number of character roles are done capably: Lazar Wolf (Peter K. Ullman), Yente (Katie Ludy), and the Rabbi (Rick Wathen) among them. Tevye’s dream sequence, far and away the most satisfying scene in the production, is full of energy and purposeful movement, with delightful singing and character bits by Lydia Kivrak as Grandma Tzeitel and Amy Dolan as Fruma-Sarah.
If only that energy and inventiveness had carried throughout the production. Static full cast numbers like “Sunrise, Sunset” and “Anatevka” lie inertly on the stage while suffering from a thin vocal sound. In the book scenes, actors sometimes speak line-by-line rather than getting into a smooth flow with their scene partners. There is a similar issue in the music direction: in both ensemble and individual numbers (including Perchik’s “Now I Have Everything” and Hodel’s “Far From the Home I Love”) the singers seemed to be directed to follow the beat extremely strictly — one can almost hear the measure bars — adversely affecting phrasing and limiting interpretive opportunities.
Those two numbers were otherwise among the best sung in the show. In addition to a strong tenor sound, Joshua Scott gives Perchik intelligence and zeal. The presentation of his song would have been improved by the deletion of some distracting choreography, however. As Hodel, AnnaBelle Lowe has the outstanding solo voice in the cast, and her character follows the most interesting arc, from feisty to happily in love to sad and resolute at the end. Lowe also joins Kaitlin Harbin (Chava) and Angelina O’Leary (Tzeitel) in a lively rendition of “Matchmaker,” with Lowe and Harbin doing some clever work with their mops and O’Leary spoofing Yente’s matchmaking efforts.
As Tzeitel’s intended, Motel, Zachary Bell lacks the vocal dynamism needed to nail “Miracle of Miracles” and physically portrays his character — to be sure a timid fellow at first — as more craven than necessary, cringing away from Tevye as though he were used to being beaten regularly. As Tevye’s wife, Golde, Kim Moore Bressler herds her husband and daughters with a firm, though affectionate, hand, though she sings weakly in “Do I Love You?”. One of the show’s successes is that the three older daughters portray their characters as having inherited their mother’s backbone in dealing with their men and with circumstances.
Fiddler, of course, is based on stories by Sholom Alechem, primarily one known as “Tevye and His Daughters” or “Tevye the Dairyman.” Tevye, a long-suffering inhabitant of a small village in Ukraine, dealing with disruptive social change, persecution, and ultimately the need to emigrate, is at the center of the play. The success of a Fiddler production depends largely on the emotional and comic force of its Tevye. Greg Rumpf does not make any noticeable errors, but his performance is that of a singles hitter in a role calling for home run power. To change the metaphor, Tveye should have a vibrantly colorful emotional palette: think of the stained glass work or paintings of Marc Chagall, one of which served as the source of the play’s fiddler image. Rumpf’s palette is too pale. His song delivery, including in the classic “If I Were a Rich Man,” is competent but unexciting. Rumpf did handle one unintentionally funny moment well, however. A loud feedback squawk interrupted Tevye’s opening speech in Act 2, following which Rumpf, after a brief pause, properly delivered what happened to be his next line: “Was that necessary?”
The production’s set, designed by Richard Gilpin, is dominated by a large house unit. While serving as the exterior of Tevye’s residence, especially when placed center stage, it creates a staging challenge, as members of the large cast have to work around it in numbers like “Tradition” and “Anatevka.” At such times, movement of a large number of people about a relatively restricted playing space tends to be less a matter of blocking or choreography than one of traffic management. When split open and turned to form the inside of the house, the unit works quite credibly as the family’s simple but clean home. There are some nice lighting touches in Tommy Scott’s design, including the use of varying colors on the upstage cyc and specials for Tevye and two of the young couples in parallel sequences in which Tevye assents to their marriages.
The costume design, attributed to the PTP Costume Guild, produces attractive and appropriate dresses and accessories for the female characters and striking white and black outfits, respectively, for the men in the Russian dance and bottle dance. The shining moment both for costumes and makeup comes with the intentionally outlandish look given Grandma Tzeitel and Fruma-Sara in the dream scene. The latter arrives on a tall, wheeled pedestal that swoops around the stage in a humorously scary way.
The background of Fiddler‘s story is a major pogrom — what nowadays we would call an episode of ethnic cleansing — that took place in Ukraine and other parts of the Russian empire in 1905, one of a series going back to 1881 when the assassination of Tsar Alexander II was blamed, incorrectly, on Jews. 1905 was already a tumultuous year for Russia, with the crushing loss of the Russo-Japanese war, major strikes by workers, and a revolution that presaged the larger upheaval of 1917. Jews, as always, were an available scapegoat, and the pogrom led to a mass emigration to America and other locales. The note of melancholy on which Fiddler ends extends past the diaspora portrayed in the show, a relatively mild precursor to the greater disasters of the 20th century. Some of the emigres find a place of safety, like Tevye and Golde, who despite their poverty, are able to get to America. Perchik and Hodel are the kinds of idealistic revolutionaries who disappeared 25 or 30 years later into Stalin’s gulag. Tzeitel and Motel, and Chava and Fyedka, unless they managed to acquire the funds to leave Poland first, would by 1941 be squarely in the path of the Holocaust. Sometimes resilience and humor in the face of terrible events and evil people are not enough.
A Note From the Director
What is tradition? It is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or the handing down of customs.
We all have our special traditions that we adhere to as a family, religion or society. Many of our practices have been around for generations and some are being created every day. Our customs mold the people we become and make us special. Growing up, I remember the special things that we did year after year in my parents’ home. The dripping of the apple in the honey to celebrate a sweet new year (Rosh Hashanah), the latkes my mother fried for Hanukkah and the matzo balls at Passover; these are such wonderful memories. When Rich and I married, we stood under the canopy and when Rich smashed on the customary glass, we delighted hearing the sound of our family and friends shouting “Mazel Tov.” On that day, we began our own special traditions to pass to our children. Many of the traditions we have in our family have nothing to do with our religious beliefs but are part of the world we live in… things like turkey on Thanksgiving, fireworks for the fourth of July and hot dogs at baseball games.
However, sometimes traditions make us reflect on what is important to us and that is what Tevye has to decide as each of his daughters come to him with plans to marry. He must decide if tradition is more important that the happiness of his family. The themes of this play are no different today as then in Tevye’s time and I am sure you can all relate to them. Please sit back and fall in love with Tevye, his family and the townspeople of Anatevka. Can find a little bit of yourself in these colorful characters and lovely traditions?
- Tevye: Greg Rumpf
- Golde: Kim Moore Bessler
- Chava: Kaitlin Harbin
- Tzeitel: Angelina O’Leary
- Hodel: AnnaBelle Lowe
- Fyedka: Brian Merritt
- Motel: Zachary Ball
- Perchik: Joshua Scott
- Yente: Katie Ludy
- Lazar Wolf: Peter K. Ullmann
- Bielke: Madelyn Mudd
- Shprintze: Chloe Park
- Avram: William Righter
- Constable: John Van Blarcom
- Fruma-Sarah: Amy Dolan
- Grandma Tzeitel: Lydia Kivrak
- Mendel: Greg Kenney, Jr.
- Mordachi: Greg Pruitt
- Shaindel: Heather Bauer
- Sasha: Carlton Silvestro
- Rabbi: Rick Wathen
- Knachum: Jonathan Johnson
- The Fiddler: Jacob Traver
- Ensemble: Kate O’Meara, Lucy Mudd, Wyatt Edwards, Hayden Edwards, Elora Edwards, Camryn Lockhart, Trey Lockhart, Jacob Traver, Tessa Silvestro, Carlton Silvestro, Amy Dolan, Greg Kenney, Jr., Kaitelyn Bauer, Kelli Harbin, William Righter, Jonathan Johnson, Lydia Kivrak, Sarah Jones
- Conductor: Chad Mildenstein
- Keyboard: Beth Lincoln
- Keyboard (Accordion): Brian Edwards
- French Horn: Diana Morse
- Oboe/French Horn: Will Derr
- Trumpet: Kenyon Cribbs
- Clarinet: Michelle Best
- Clarinet: Susan Sweeny
- Flute/Piccolo: Ashley Brumburg
- Violin: Sydney Christley, Allison Claggett, Sarah Koon
- Viola: Monica Katerina Eller
- Cello: Lori DeLoache
- Drums: Tim DeLoache
The Production Staff
- Producer: Liz Mildenstein
- Director: Joselle Gilpin
- Assistant Director and Assistant Stage Manager: Melissa Ball
- Music Director: Chad Mildenstein
- Choreographer: Ben Simpson
- Stage Manager: Laurie Mudd
- Set Design: Richard Gilpin
- Set Construction Lead: Richard Gilpin
- Set Construction Crew: Brian Edwards, Greg Pruitt, Amy Dolan, Ryan Mudd, Zack Ball, Chad Mildenstein, Annie Lockhart, Austin Lockhart, Camryn Lockhart, Heather Bauer, Jonathan Johnson, Chloe Lateulere, Chris Magee
- Set Painting: Ronna Johnson
- Assisted by: Tessa Silvestro, Jhonni Micki Johnson Jone, Jill Hanger, Betsy Stevens
- Set Decoration: Ronna Johnson, Kim Moore Bessler, Joselle Gilpin
- Properties: Grenda Dennis
- Assisted : Kim Moore Bessler
- Lighting Design and Operator: Tommy Scott
- Spotlight Operator: Rhonda Edwards
- Sound Design: Draper Carter
- Costume Design: The PTP Costume Guild including Melody Hansel Sciarratta, Pat Brennan, Brenda Mudd, Quentin Sagers, Lisa Magee, Pat Brennan, Madeline Sutherland
- Makeup and Hair Design: Heather and Kaitelyn Bauer
- Assisted by: Chloe Lateulere
- House Manager: Rhonda Edwards
- Logo Artist/Program: Liz Mildenstein
- Headshots: Greg Rumpf
Disclaimer: Port Tobacco Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9803.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.