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Fiddler on the Roof

REBECCA JACOBSON
7:30 pm Tuesdays-Sundays, 2 pm Saturdays-Sundays, noon Thursdays through Nov. 3., Thursday October 03 | $38-$72.
Gerding Theater
128 NW 11th Ave.
 
“Twenty-eight?!” my friend exclaimed, after I told her the size of the cast for Portland Center Stage’s Fiddler on the Roof. “There aren’t even that many Jews in Portland!” (Give her a break: She’s a Jew from Long Island. And for the record, there are close to 50,000 Jews in Portland.) But I took her point. Despite our recent bagel boom, this isn’t exactly a city teeming with yarmulke-clad, kosher-keeping denizens. How would PCS artistic director Chris Coleman—himself a goy from Atlanta—treat this portrait of life in a Jewish shtetl in pre-revolutionary Russia? Would he turn it into an allegory for Syria? For Israel-Palestine? For the embattled Right 2 Dream Too homeless encampment? The answer, mercifully, is no. It’s easy to make contemporary analogies for the classic musical, which centers on Tevye, a tradition-bound milkman facing the forces of modernity and malice. But what makes this production work is its refusal to generalize or to draw sweeping parallels. Coleman brings texture to a broad tale: It’s neither weepily mournful nor parodically ridiculous. As Tevye, David Studwell plays a man weary but resilient, buoyed by a dark and idiosyncratically Jewish sense of humor. The other cast members—all speaking in distinctive Russian-Jewish accents, one of the things that gives the production such satisfying specificity—also bring nuance to broadly drawn characters. The design choices, too, fit both Fiddler and Portland: The floor-to-ceiling backdrop of reclaimed wood would be at home in any farm-to-cone ice cream parlor serving noodle-kugel sorbet. The wood chips on the floor, which go flying during peppy dance sequences, are another nice touch. Fiddler may lack the subversion of a Sondheim musical, the humor of Spamalot or the swooning emotionality of West Side Story. But it’s hard to deny its warm and homespun allure, which tugs on our desire for tradition while warning us of the dangers of insularity. L’chaim!

Where: Gerding Theater
Phone: 445-3700
Address: 128 NW 11th Ave.
Website: pcs.org

 
 
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