nytheatre.com review by Matt Schicker
August 11, 2006
Tradition! is an old-fashioned musical comedy about the importance the musical Fiddler on the Roof has on the relationship of its central characters, Irving and Jessica, both professional New York City actors.
But wait! There are no songs in Tradition! There's a bit of dancing during the scene transitions, and a fiddler who improvises klezmer and country at various interludes, but, despite all clues to the contrary, this is not a musical.
It's this sense of unfulfilled promises that makes Tradition! ultimately disappointing. During the long play, much is made of the acting and singing talent of the two central characters, Irving and Jessica, yet we never see their talent in action. Are the zany actor characters actually as untalented as they seem? Is Irving's Fiddler-obsessed father's portrayal of Tevye any good? We never find out—and many great opportunities for comedy are lost.
The story of Tradition! goes something like this: Irving Finkelstein and his fiancée, Jessica, are afraid to tell his parents that they're engaged because they will be furious that his fiancée isn't Jewish. To ease his parents into the idea, Irving gets summer stock jobs for Jessica and himself in a production of Fiddler on the Roof, a musical held in very serious reverence in the Finkelstein household. Once Irving's parents see how talented and beautiful Jessica is in "their" musical, they can't help but love her—right?
Unfortunately, the summer stock company turns out to be the "Good Shepherd Dinner Theatre" run by nutty Christian fundamentalists who plan to cut key scenes out of the musical to make it more palatable to the local audience. Irving tries to uphold some sort of artistic integrity in the production, but things go from bad to worse when Irving's parents show up unannounced days early and a stressed-out actor has a heart attack. By the end of the play, Irving's parents are playing the central roles in Fiddler and the parents come to accept the non-Jewish fiancée in a happy musical-comedy ending.
Some serious editing would benefit this 2-hour-plus-long play, which is written by Alan Ostroff. The audience frequently is several steps ahead of the story and nothing ever does come to a full boil, making it seem longer. We can be thankful that director Jack Wann does a decent job of keeping the action moving forward as quickly as possible, though the staging in the oddly-configured Players Theatre space is frequently awkward, with actors regularly (if inadvertently) upstaging one another.
Most of the performances are spirited and everyone's doing their best to make the script seem less cumbersome than it actually is. Laurence Cantor and Rick Zahn do particularly good jobs making sure their over-the-top characters are realistically motivated.
Tellingly, the most enjoyable moments of the evening are unscripted. Jens Kramer is a talented violinist and entertainer who in a pre-show "introduction" sets up a wacky, spirited mood that doesn't continue once the play starts. Transitional interludes with the various characters wildly dancing also deliver the kind of energy and fun one is hoping for during the actual scenes. The final bows, with the entire cast joining in a traditional Jewish dance, really gets the audience clapping and cheering; it feels very odd that nothing in the actual play ever elicits this kind of excitement.