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Fiddler at Mary

By Lexxie Rae

The story of the classic musical, Fiddler on the Roof, was revived by University of Mary students in the first weekend of March. In a time marked by polarization, hatred, and xenophobia, a story of anti-Semitism and remaining faithful and committed to family is particularly appropriate. One actor, Kaitlyn Gellerman, who played the mother of Motel the tailor (Chandler Hertz), shared her thoughts on the relevance of the play with Summit.

“I was shocked to learn how few people had seen [Fiddler on the Roof] or heard of it,” said Gellerman. “I love the story of Fiddler, and, as I was watching from backstage, as everyone in [Tevye’s] family said goodbye to each other, it hit me that this is true for some people. They are being forced out of their homes, and I legitimately cried.” Gellerman described the play as “very powerful” saying that it was interesting how “the first act is so bright and happy and you’re all talking about weddings, and then it takes a turn for the worst.”

The actual performance of the play by the UMary students was also done in a way that emphasized its important message. “We actually made it more violent than the [1971] movie,” Gellerman said. She specifically mentioned the scene in which Tevye (Aaron Brown), infuriated by the fact that his daughter Chava (Annie Balster) wants to marry Fyedka (Dan Lang), who is not Jewish, grabs his daughter’s face and screams at her, a detail not included in the film. Gellerman also discussed the scene in which police disrupt the wedding of Tzeitel (Rachel Goettle) and Motel, which was also adapted by the cast to emphasize more the theme of anti-Semitism. “A Russian male backhanding a Jewish woman?” Gellerman pointed out, “That speaks volumes. I really think it added to the content of the musical.”

Gellerman stated that, by participating in the musical, an item on her bucket list was crossed off. Fiddler is one of her favorite musicals and on her list of productions she wants to be a part of. “I think the funniest character has to be the Rabbi,” she said. “Brayden [Renner] had me dying. Oh, and Granny Tzeitel (Leah Balster)—a lot of those acting choices were hers, which made it even better.” Gellerman appreciates all the work her cast mates put into making the musical a success. “I’m so grateful for the rest of the cast. Everyone rightfully deserved the parts they got.”

Aaron Brown, who played Tevye, the family patriarch, also spoke to Summit. When asked why he chose to audition for the musical, he said, “I’ve known the musical for a long time. I love it a lot and the characters resonate with me.” He decided to “aim high” in tryouts and got the lead role. Fitting with the modest traits of Tevye, Brown did not celebrate excessively when he learned he had gotten the part. His first reaction was “internal; I called my mom eventually but that was about it.” However, not everything Brown did was exactly what the script called for. He said he tried to “bring as much of myself to [the character] as I could.” This was a wise choice; Brown is not Jewish so trying to play a Jewish character was a creative challenge. On the subject, Brown commented that “an actor’s job is to act with what they have. I don’t have the same emotional attachment to the character as a Jewish person would, but as a theology major I have studied Jewish tradition, especially in Bible classes, so that was useful.” He especially credited these classes for his ability to “emphasize a word that would add meaning to the line” when Tevye quotes “the Good Book.” He also agreed with Gellerman that the UMary actors made certain scenes more violent for a greater impact. When asked about the scene in which Tevye and Chava argue, Brown said, “Those scenes were the hardest because it goes against my character as a person. It was emotionally draining. After each run-through I would apologize over and over and [Balster] would say no, no, it’s okay, you did what you had to do.”

When considering the significance of the play to modern issues, Brown took a different view than Gellerman. He said, “I don’t see a connection, not politically, but I was able to feel what he felt because of attack on tradition in the church.” Many scenes in the musical involve Tevye’s inner conflict between tradition and modern ways of thinking, and Brown related this to the divisions in the church. “Even on campus, trying to petition to keep the chant alive or bring latin mass to campus, a lot of my peers would go against that,” said Brown. “In this musical in a certain respect you could compare it to Vatican II: tradition versus modern living. What will people choose? Will the church embrace culture or will it continue to go against it? And for Tevye, does he hold onto tradition? With his first daughter, his second daughter, he says it’s kind of okay, but with the third it’s not okay. Marrying outside of the Jewish faith is a line he can’t cross.”

When asked how he came up with Tevye’s accent, Brown offered a story from his childhood. “I auditioned with it. I got it from my mother; she would wake us up each morning with a different accent and it was just something I grew up with.” Brown said his two favorite scenes are when he is discussing money with the Perchik (Stephen Richardson), with the classic line, “May God smite me with it!” and the duet with his wife Golde (Rachel Morrison) “Do You Love Me?” Brown said it was his favorite scene, “it was uncharted territory for my character. Normally Tevye has the Bible to handle every situation, but this was something he had to do on his own.” This led into a discussion on arranged marriage, which Brown said he already had positive views on before he was involved in the production. “Arranged marriage, not as a general rule, but arranged marriage is a legitimate form of marriage. It’s different from the passionate love of younger children and the negative effects, such as leaving your home or faith. Tevye and Golde are not romantic but have willed each other’s goodwill. There are arguments for and against arranged marriage, but those two [Tevye and Golde] are a good example of how it really works.”

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