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'Fiddler on the Roof' offers modern social significance

Stake Center cast and crew preparing to present classic musical

STAFF PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE  - From left, McKenna Hartley (Hodel), Amy Lichtenstein (Tzeitel), Cara Starke (Sprintze), Kelly Beck (Golde) and Dutch Meerdink (Tevye).

Dana Edvalson has been teaching drama and directing plays for nearly 30 years, and has led countless productions of the famous musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”

But in preparing a fresh cast for this month’s production of the play at the Lake Oswego Stake Center, it occurred to Edvalson that the story — set in Imperial Russia in the early 20th century — has significant social relevance still today.

“I’d been reading about all the refugee situations around the world, and I realized that was really what ‘Fiddler’ is all about,” she said. “It’s about people who are being separated from their families, from their homes and from their lives.”

Edvalson shares that message with the cast and crew as they gather in prayer before and after each rehearsal. With the involvement of nearly 100 people ages 5 to 85, she said it’s important to have a common theme — sometimes spiritual and often socially relevant — for the cast and crew to keep in mind while preparing for their performance.

McKenna Hartley (Hodel) and Ben Romney (Perchik) play two lovers.

“Fiddler on the Roof” tells the story of a father clinging to his farm, his family, his history and the traditions of his Jewish faith in the face of persecution from outside forces. He stands against his daughters’ wishes for marriages that will move them further away from their home and their religious customs, all against the backdrop of an impending order from the czar to evict the Jews from their village.

It’s a story being played out on the world stage right now with political crises forcing families to separate and leave their homelands, similar to when the pogroms shook Russia around the time the play is set.

Edvalson hopes to convey the message that, no matter how far away from home these crises happen, they still have an far-reaching impact.

“I’ve done a fair amount of traveling, and I’ve always felt like Oregon is as far away as you can get,” she said. “Tragedies happen everywhere, but Oregon feels safe. It’s our little corner of the world. But we believe we’re all brothers and sisters, all over the world. I think it’s important that we take a little time to step back and take a look at the big picture.”

The group will perform the play four times at the Stake Center between Nov. 19 and 21.

Front row left to right, Allyx Olsen (Chava), Andrea Chandler (village girl), Nicklas Schimmelbusch (village boy). Back row left to right, Tim Edvalson (dream rabbi) Racquel Waldo (village woman), Shelly Chandler (village woman) and Christian Schimmelbusch (Hodel)

With its memorable songs and a complex, likeable lead character — the father, Tevye — “Fiddler on the Roof” aims to charm and entertain while illustrating the impact of a tragic historic event.

Edvalson said that while the story is fictional, its backdrop and context were very real.

“It’s important for our cast and crew to ask themselves, ‘How serious is this? Did this really happen? Is this just a movie?’” she said. “They have to think about it. As we’ve gone along in prayer, they’re mentioning the refugees. So I think it’s raising the consciousness of the whole group.”

“I’m so impressed with the way Dana relates to the cast and crew,” said assistant director Julie Lane, who like Edvalson is an employee of the West Linn-Wilsonville School District. “From the get-go, she was trying to impart how these current events relate perfectly to the story and that message.”

Edvalson is quick to point out that “Fiddler” isn’t all doom and gloom. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes silly, sometimes serious, with all these things embodied by the lead character, Tevye.

“He sees life as a spiritual journey,” she said. “He’s a convivial, jovial guy, but he’s also a guy who has deeper thoughts. He speaks to God as if he’s his next-door neighbor.”

Edvalson said despite the deeper seriousness of the material, the play is enjoyable for adults and children alike. But for those old enough to know what’s happening in the world politically, she hopes the performance provides some perspective.

“That’s what art is for, to help us understand our world a little better,” she said. “Hopefully the audience will come and experience some of the same feelings the cast has.”

“Fiddler on the Roof” will be performed four times at the Lake Oswego Stake Center, 14903 Westlake Drive. Show times are 7 p.m. Nov. 19 and 20 and 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Nov. 21. Admission is free; attendees are encouraged to bring canned food items to be donated to Oregon Food Bank.

Contact Phil Favorite at 503-659-5433 or email philfavorite@gmail.com.

Left to right Ryan Meerdink, Steven Meerdink and Jed Judkins play Russian soldiers.