I saw a Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof on Thursday, August 18. The set and lighting were perfect. The orchestra glimmered with the polish of a thousand and one performances. Dancers executed modern variations of traditional dances with astonishing precision.
Yet the most overwhelming part of the show was the lack of truth in the performances of every single cast member.
Here we go.
Fiddler is a funny, beautiful, and touching show. It does not need actors to make it into a funny, beautiful, and touching show. It needs actors to be truthful so the funny, the beautiful, and the touching can be experienced by an audience.
These Broadway professionals were hell-bent on making Fiddler more funny, more beautiful, and more touching. By doing so the show became less funny, less beautiful, and less touching.
I should explain what I mean by the actors being dishonest. “Less than authentic” is probably a better way to say it. And what is “less than authentic”?
In his textbook Five Approaches to Acting, David Kaplan quotes the novel Father Goriot by Honoré de Balzac. This description of Father Goriot’s authentic emotion is what we are looking for:
“It is worthy of remark that true feeling acts like an inspiration. No matter how ordinary a man may be, whenever he gives expression to a real and strong affection, he is wrapped in an impalpable essence that alters his countenance, animates his gestures and lends a new inflection to his voice. Under the stress of passion, the dullest being may reach the highest degree of eloquence of thought, if not of language, and seems to be transfigured. At this moment, the old man’s voice and gestures possessed the communicative power that marks a great actor. Are not our fine feelings the poetry of the will?”
We’ve all witnessed even the most sedentary of personalities light up once the correct subject is breached. In an instant the formerly boring party guest starts to hold forth with the passion and commitment of a camp-meeting evangelist and we begin to wish they would shut up.
While the energy of this production of Fiddler was through-the-roof-high, the sincerity was missing. It was almost as if this wasn’t the right subject for these actors to be passionate about. Considering the subject matter of Fiddler, I’m not sure how that could be possible, but the fact remains that loudness is not passion and energy is not conviction.