I’ve seen two shows at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady in February, New Colossus and Fiddler on the Roof. I am having difficulty reviewing either, for different reasons.
The New Colossus is a play written by actor Tim Robbins and the cast from the Actors’ Gang Ensemble out of Los Angeles. As Robbins told Democracy Now, “I had 12 actors from various parts of the world, some of whom English was a second language. And I asked them to write their story, write the story of either their immigration or their parents’ or grandparents’ immigration. And we came up with this story of 12 different people, from 12 different time periods, speaking 12 different languages, telling the story of the arduous journey towards freedom — something that unites us, by the way, as a country.”
The tale as told, some with superscript as one experience at some operas, some cacophonous. A lot of literally walking in circles, which I took to represent the tedium of the process. But then the “refugees” communicate with each other, largely without words.
By the end, when each performer describes their ancestor, it is quite affecting. Then Robbins polls the audience about their immigrant journeys. Folks had their picture taken with Robbins. I told him my affection for the movie The Player. On the way home, my wife and I talked about the pacing of the production. But it was a valuable experience.
Fiddler on the Roof is my second-favorite musical, behind only West Side Story. And that’s probably only because I’d seen WSS earlier. My first exposure to Fiddler was a version of Sunrise, Sunset sung by Robert Goulet on some Columbia Records compilation from the mid-1960s. I thought it was a bit schlocky. But when I heard it in the musical this year, it may have been the most affecting song.
In this production, I felt more of the oppression of the Jewish people by the government bullies before the ultimate expulsion from Anatefka. There’s a particular physical technique in which Tevye is separated from his third daughter that was fabulous. The relatively barren stage for Tradition, using essentially two large doors, was quite effective.
The Tevye, who I believe was the understudy, was fine. Tzeitel, the eldest daughter, really sold the fear of the Matchmaker’s decision in a way I don’t always feel. I loved the physicality of the young tailor Motel in fear of his future father-in-law.
So if the bottle dance wasn’t as effective as the one I saw at Mac-Hadyn in 2014, whatever. My wife, my daughter and I enjoyed the performance.