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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Fiddler on the Spoof

As a followup to my last post, I'm adding some more Fiddler on the Roof material here that I had forgotten I had.

For those of you who have seen the film or the play, or have ever been in a theatrical production or have been forced to attend your favorite drama geek's plays, then you will truly get a kick out of the following stories. Plus, you guys responded so well to the story about my dad that I figured it would be okay to post another family member's antics.

[DISCLAIMER: If you snort coffee out of your nose, wet your pants, accidentally swallow your chewing gum or wake the baby from laughing, I warned you right now... this is some seriously funny stuff.]

***

My sister is one of those people who knew what her true calling was from about the age of five years old. She always has been, and still remains, a very talented actress (and I’m not just saying this because she’s my sister. I have actually spied on perfect strangers in the ladies’ room and on the mezzanine at intermission during her performances and have heard other people say very nice things about her.) She even gets paid to act, so I guess that fact says something in itself.

When my sister got the part of Chava in her repertory company’s production of Fiddler on the Roof, it was the absolute best thing that could have happened to my grandmother all year. She had won a coveted role in the most Jewish of all stage productions; my sister was representing Her People. My grandma made telephone calls to people she hadn’t spoken to in years just to let them know about our family’s rising star. I don’t know if this pre-show hooplah was as bad as saying “Macbeth” backstage, but this production turned out to be one of my sister’s more challenging performances.

What you are about to read is a running account of Fiddler’s preview for a regional professional repertory company, performed during a summer season in an outdoor theatre. Forget rehearsals, these are real shows, with real audiences. My sister e-mailed these tell-alls to me after each fateful night.

***

Fiddler on the Spoof is what last night's performance should have been called because it was actually more of a take-off on the original Broadway hit, as opposed to a true representation. If Dad had been there, we would be planning his funeral now. He would have laughed so hard that we would not have been able to resuscitate him. I told you that the only thing that didn't happen was the two-story set crashing down on our heads and I meant it.

First, as I'm parking my car, I see my friend Kent pull up. Kent's blond, as is most of this Hitler Youth cast, and they all have to dye their hair brown for the show. Kent dyed his yesterday, and I almost lost all of my marbles when I saw him. He had screaming fuschia hair. He babbled, ‘The color was called Chestnut—I mean, I read the box! I have no idea what happened. It'll wash out in a week.’ It was actually more red than purple really, and so we all kept rubbing his head last night and speaking in Irish accents. We called him Lucky the Leprechaun, and when he walked by I'd whisper, ‘Green clovers, blue diamonds...’ you know, like from the cereal commercial?

And Kent’s hair certainly didn't match his fake beard, which all of the men have to glue on, except that there was only one bottle of glue and someone spilled it all over the table, so they had to scrape out what was left and use it, but there wasn't enough left. So as soon as everyone opened their mouths to sing the first note of "Tradition," all the beards and mustaches came loose and hung off of their faces.

During the beard fiasco, I tripped over the set (a new piece had been added since yesterday), and fell against the back wall, taking down the two little girls on either side of me. After the song was over, I waited for my entrance into the next scene where I have to come in from the barn, through the front door, and kiss the mezzuzah, ("She's in the barn milking" is my cue line), and when my line came up, I walked in from the bedroom on accident (another new set change), realized that I was already in the house, said "OH!", backed up and walked around the back of the set, and then came through the front door.

Um, can anyone say professional actor?

Can anyone say out-of-work actor?

But Lucky reassured me and reminded me that it was just a preview, and I felt better.

But then we came out in our next scene to sing “Matchmaker” where we dance with these mops, and it was really wet from the fog, and the set people had finished painting the stage really late the night before, so the floor was kind of tacky and our mops stuck to the floor and so we spent the entire song trying to get them unstuck. We would tug and pull on the mops and pretend like it was part of the dance, and a couple of times we pulled too hard, and the mops slipped out of our hands and crashed to the floor. We would try to grab them before they crashed to the floor and killed the floor mikes and that didn't look very much like a dance.

In the next scene, my sister Hodel had a spider on her face. I tried to tell her and brushed my own face, but she didn't get it. So in the part of the scene where we're supposed to be quietly talking, I whispered to her, "There's a spider on your face." She totally screamed and started smacking her own face, trying to get it off. ("This is Tevye's mentally challenged daughter—even she gets married.")

Then there was the Sabbath, when we light the candles and sing the Sabbath song and it's very beautiful. Except for last night. After Hodel freaked about the spider, we all gathered around Golde who had the candles and the "Strike Anywhere" matches. "Strike anywhere" except for when it's not foggy and wet, I should say. She went through about fifteen matches, all of which broke, blew out, or never lit, and the audience roared. What a sacred moment.

Another tragedy was the bottle dance in the wedding scene. The costumer had set a foundation of hot glue on the top of the men's hats, and right before they were to go on, she hit their bottles with hot glue so that when they went on stage with the bottle and placed it on their head, the bottle would stick but it would look like they were really doing to dance (you see, the dance hasn't gone particularly well so far.) Anyway, the glue dried before the dancers could stick the bottle to the glue base on the hat, and because there was a big chunk of glue there now instead of a flat surface, the bottles wouldn’t stay on at all, and the dance ended up being about catching falling bottles. The audience laughed a lot, and so did we. The audience was very forgiving about a lot of things last night.

But soon, we'll be a little more polished, I hope. The set isn't finished and neither are the costumes. Rabbi's son, Mendel, wore his prayer shawl last night with jeans and hiking boots.”

***

“Opening night was a great show, and so was Sunday, although the energy level was a bit lower, it was still really strong. Friday, however, is Fiddler on the Spoof: the Sequel. It's entitled Fiddler Off the Roof, or Dead Fiddler.

Yes, that's right, folks, our littler fiddler almost bit it hard! Teetering on the edge of our two-story set, we thought for sure it was the end of her, but she recovered her balance and went right on fiddling. That would definitely have been a very tragic, and very abrupt, ending to Fiddler on the Roof.

The play also could have been entitled Dead Sister Hodel. As we were walking onstage for the Sabbath prayer, Hodel was in front of me, walking forward with her head turned back and talking to me ("la la la") and then SLAM! Walked right into the huge wooden pillar that holds up the second story of our set. She wavered a bit, and then I came from behind and led her over to the Sabbath table. Laughing hysterically, of course, but mutely also. You know, just silently convulsing?

So, after the scene, we are backstage, and everyone is really having a good laugh riot back there at poor Hodel's expense, and she's laughing too, now that she's got her vision back. She starts to focus for the next scene by touching up her makeup. I said to her, "Holly, that's a really pretty lipstick. What color is that?" and she says to me, "Why thank you. It's called ‘Blue Shed’."

"Blue Shed!" I say. "What a weird name for a lipstick! Who makes it?"

"L’Oreal," she says. "It is kind of a strange name... Blue Shed." So then Victoria grabs the lipstick and looks at the sticker on the bottom, and says "Um, you mean Blushed?! It's called Blushed, for Chrissakes." Uproarious laughter once again.

I get up from my chair and start walking away, turn back to Holly and the others and say, "Why thank you. It's called Blue Shed" and ram myself into the wooden pillar in our dressing room and then we were off!! There was no stopping the torrent of torment! Holly took it well, but we were all in such a silly mood that anything would start us laughing hysterically. You know how sometimes you get in those moods? When Tzeitel was told that she had to marry the butcher Lazar Wolf, we laughed. When the pogrom ruined the wedding, we laughed. When Hodel went to Siberia, we laughed. When Dad excommunicated me, we laughed. And when Hodel crossed the stage, slipped on a wet patch, slid the rest of the stage, landed on her bum and kicked a tin milk bucket out into the audience, boy, did we laugh.

I can't remember much else happening but that was definitely enough for me. The Fiddler’s mustache was hanging by a hair, literally a hair, during the whole wedding scene.”

***

Fiddler on the Goof was definitely Sunday's rendition of the Broadway original. The first two numbers were sung and danced to without any music at all. Well, the music was playing, but the monitors weren't hooked up correctly, so the microphones amplifying our voices were working but the monitors that amplified the music of the orchestra weren’t. So everyone danced around, thudding loud feet on the floor, and it looked absolutely ridiculous. The cast could hear a slight whisper of music when we were very quiet, but the audience couldn't at all. At one point, as we were singing and dancing around to nothing, we got off beat on the song, and everyone stopped singing and dancing and just looked at each other. Some tried to go on, some remained silent and frozen. We all looked at each other, and everyone got real quiet and listened to the music. When we got a listen to where we were in the song, we all finished off the number and ran for our lives.

I was freakin' after this, saying how I was not going to go out there and sing "Matchmaker" a capella because it's hard enough for me to even sing with the music. I might sing all the wrong notes and then I would have a nervous breakdown in front of all those people who paid money to take their minds off of having their own nervous breakdowns. As we sisters came out to sing our number, it was tense. You could cut the air with a knife. Our lines came out reading "dread, dread, dread," and as the song began, I bit my lip and told myself this was a sign that I should not be doing musical theatre! However, the moment I opened my mouth to sing my first solo note, there was a pop, and the music swelled through theatre, loud and delicious, more beautiful than the singing of angels, or those chicks from the Iliad, or the Odyssey, or whatever. You know, the sirens.

The little girl who plays my sister was being so loud and obnoxious before the show was to start that the props manager tied her to the prop table for a half an hour. She cried, but it was very funny and we laughed behind her back.

So, back to the show. At intermission, someone brought the actors a huge fruit platter to enjoy, and there was a swarm of people around it. One of the really big, fat, disgusting men in our show volunteered that there was also the Sabbath Challah to eat, the prop loaf of bread that we use in our show. I saw that he had already almost gone through half of the bread, and I said, "That's LACQUERED! You can't eat that—it's toxic...poison...bad." He looked at it, his mouth open, drool falling from the left corner of his mouth, shrugged and said "tastes OK to me" and finished off the chunk in his hand. Unfortunately, nothing bad happened to him, but he did seem to cough a few times, teeter when he walked, and make a few gagging retching noises. He does that anyway, but in this particular instance, it sent all of us who knew he ate the decoupage loaf into absolute hysterics.

The Fiddler's mustache fell off yet again, only this time it did not land in the hole in her violin. Too bad.

I've got to do a bit of work now, but there's another show tonight and I'm sure it was be chock full of humiliating things for me to entertain you with tomorrow.”

***

"Fiddler on the Doof: Well, unfortunately for my readers, the show doesn't stink like it used to. Actually, it only stinks in short spurts and then it goes back to being mediocre. Last night, however, it was both a full moon and the beginning of mating season for the dogs in the neighborhood of the outdoor Forest theatre. We actually had to stop at one point and wait for the dogs to finish. Not only could we not be heard above that racket, but we were certainly not the focus of the audience's attention either. I'd be pissed if I spent 15 bucks to see a play, and the only thing I heard were a bunch of dogs makin' it on the side of the theatre. Anyway, this happened three times. It was really like a part of the show after the third time, and we tried to get the canines to come and take a bow with us at curtain call, but they were shy.

During the wedding scene, this huge white moth (let's call it a bat for descriptive purposes) kept swooping down onto the stage and up into the lights and causing a general distraction (not like the dogs weren't bad enough). Well, at one point, the moth dive-bombed Tzeitel, the bride. The moth fell to the floor, staggered a bit, and then flew up her dress. I should have truly just left the stage at this point, but I persevered. As she started to shift and wiggle, I stared straight ahead and thought of dead puppies.

Then, as Tevye started to sing his solo in “Sunrise, Sunset,” I noticed him get really stiff and tense. Now, let me preface this by telling you that before the show, when Tevye was putting on his makeup we heard him say "Oh WOW!" and he came out to tell us what an amazingly huge spider there was in his dressing room. We could really call it a bat, too, except it doesn't fly, so we'll just call it a cat for descriptive purposes. Anyway, he held tours and took admission, and we all filed in one-by-one to see this monstrous “cat.” It was on the wall, right next to the black robe he wears in the wedding scene (the plot becomes clear now, yes?) So back to the song... Tevye was singing, he later recalled to us, when he felt a tremendous bead of sweat roll down the back of his neck and into his shirt. He thought, "Wow, I'm really sweating."

"But then," he said, "the sweat started to go back up my neck and I thought sweat rolls down, not up!!!" He pondered this freak of nature for a moment and then fear just slapped him in the face. "Oh my God! It's that nasty spider! I'm going to die!" He continued with his song, but truly freaked out and stripped down at intermission. What a professional.

In spite of the hopes and dreams of the entire cast, the lecherous twisted man who ate the lacquered Challah bread did not die. He didn't even get sick. However, he did give such a terrible performance last night he didn't stay for curtain call, which is the most wonderful thing that's ever happened to me because it was the one night where I didn't have to hear the sound of his zipper as we all undress after the show. I didn't have to try to stop myself from picturing him standing in his nasty underwear behind me and feeling the tickle of his crusty leg hair as he got as close to me as possible while he was changing. It was a banner evening.

Okay, there's the brief (speaking of underwear) and now I've got to go!”

***

You don't know how much money I would have paid to see these shows, but even laughing about it here, years later, is almost as good as being there. I hope you enjoyed these too.

Right now my baby sister is a mommy with two little babies of her own (Little Curly Girl and Princess Chubness) but perhaps when they get a little older, someone in that house will make it back onto the stage (LCG is looking promising) and then I'll have more theatre stories to share with you.


13 comments:

J9 April 2, 2009 at 8:58 PM  

OMG - I am BUSTING up about this! And, "The moth fell to the floor, staggered a bit, and then flew up her dress. I should have truly just left the stage at this point, but I persevered. As she started to shift and wiggle, I stared straight ahead and thought of dead puppies." is sheer genius!

Malevito April 2, 2009 at 11:54 PM  

Hi TB--

This is a fascinating account of a fiasco :) What makes it especially intriguing is that it's coming from the perspective of an actual participant. Reminded me a lot of the bit from This American Life about another on stage fiasco. You can hear it on the following link. Enjoy!

http://audio.thisamericanlife.org/player/CPRadio_player.php?podcast=http://www.thisamericanlife.org/xmlfeeds/61.xml&proxyloc=http://audio.thisamericanlife.org/player/customproxy.php

julochka April 3, 2009 at 3:27 AM  

definitely gotta get me some Blue Shed lipstick. like pronto.

hilarious stuff. where was this summer theatre, at some boyscout camp? there was an awful lot of wildlife.

margieandkath April 3, 2009 at 5:45 AM  

A. just yelled upstairs "what the heck are laughing at". this post was funny. margie

tangobaby April 3, 2009 at 6:50 AM  

Hey Malevito,

Besides "Squirrel Cop," "Fiasco" is my favorite TAL episode of all time! God, it's awesome.

Thanks for sharing the link. I have it on CD around here somewhere but now I don't need to find it... and hopefully some other people will discover it for the first time.

;-)

Mari April 3, 2009 at 7:12 AM  

Wow, what an action-packed run!

Char April 3, 2009 at 9:46 AM  

I felt as if my ribs were going to crack I laughed sooo hard. Now I must dash off to watch Noises Off or Waiting for Guffman.

seriously funny stuff.

Gabby April 3, 2009 at 10:24 AM  

I had to send this to my sister, who always has schpilkis. You are the best.

Christina April 3, 2009 at 10:59 AM  

LMAO! This is too much! M.R. is all- "what mom?"
Heee! I love Fiddler and your fam!

Relyn April 3, 2009 at 10:30 PM  

Rolling here. Can hardly type am laughing so hard. MAN! Your sister can write. Talk about a talented family. If you and LCG's Momma haven't read Underfoot in Show Business by Helene Hanff, you must. Especially your sister.

Cynthia April 4, 2009 at 6:24 AM  

:-) :-0 :-) I can't catch my breath! What a hoot! I would pay to see Fiddler on the Spoof!!! Thanks for sharing your sister's post-performance reflections. <3

Starlene April 4, 2009 at 9:54 AM  

OMG, so funny! I refrained from drinking any coffee (per the disclaimer) but I choked on my own spit. : D

And now I'm strangely craving matzoh ball soup and challah bread. I could really go for some blintzes too.

KennethSF April 5, 2009 at 5:37 PM  

This is hilarious! I'd willingly pay to watch a play about the back-stage fiasco during the production of Fiddler on the Roof.