“Fiddler on the Roof” is working on some heavy themes.
You forget that some, because “Fiddler” is such a staple of musical theater and because it’s about love and marriage, and those things come with a certain amount of revelry. Add on the singing and dancing and a few well-placed one liners, and the play could easily be reduced to a kind of second-rate romantic comedy.
Good Company Players’ presentation of “Fiddler,” (which runs through July 14 at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater), doesn’t run that risk. It doesn’t dwell on the heaviness, by any means, but it doesn’t shy away from it either.
That makes it a powerful piece of theater.
Early on, the milkman Tevye (Dan Pessano) comes on stage pulling his cart.
“Today, I am a horse,” he says.
It’s a moment that underscore’s Pessano’s approach to the character and director Laurie Pessano’s approach to the play.
Dan Pessano plays Tevye as wary and overworked, a man with a vague yearning for something more and no idea of how to make that happen. When he sings “If I Were a Rich Man,” it is as a prayer. Tevye is asking God for a better life and at the same moment resigning himself to the fact that life will likely never come. He continues on as a poor milk man, because in many ways, he knows no better. Like the horse that pulls the cart, it is his place in the world.
Of course, that world is changing, and in ways that test Tevye’s very faith.
Pessano’s portrayal of that struggle is marvellous. Tevye is his role and he owns it.
He has help from a talented cast, especially Emma Dezubiria, Emily Pessano and Christy Hathaway, who play Tevye’s three daughters.
The scene between Tevye and Hodel (Emily Pessano) as is she leaving the village to join her husband in Siberia, where he has been imprisoned, is particularly raw. Actors have been known to cry on cue and here the tears real. It is a powerful good-bye, no doubt helped by the fact Hodel and Tevye are real-life daughter and father.
Christy Hathaway shows serious acting chops in her role as the younger daughter Chava. When Tevye turns his back on her for marrying outside the faith, it is gut wrenching. She collapses on the floor and pleads for her father’s acceptance. As he walks away, you can’t help but want to cradle her up and reassure her that everything is going to be OK.
The play is also has some stunning visual moments thanks to the creative team: Choreographer Mark Gonzalez, lighting designer Andrea Henrickson and costumer designer Ginger Kay-Lewis-Reed.
The Sabbath Prayer, performed in the dark, lit only with prayer candles, is appropriately sacred. The dream sequence is frenetically staged and seriously creepy, down to tiny costuming details: The over-sized ghost of Fruma-Sarah is wearing pearls tied around her neck as a noose.
Bottom line: For those looking for a lighthearted afternoon (or evening) at the theater, the singing and dance numbers are captivating and the moments of humor will have your laughing out loud (they did for me, anyway). But the performance is also poignant and thought provoking. The themes of faith and tradition versus free-thinking and progress are as relevant as ever and great fodder for after-show conversation, for those looking.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been to the theater, but “Fiddler on the Roof” is everything I want from the experience.