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A CurtainUp Review
Fiddler Sub-Terrain
Barbara K. Mehlman

Despite the fact that we Americans are, for the most part, mono-lingual, we're not as provincial as we're frequently portrayed by the international media. We do care about things that don't directly concern us, such as starvation in Somalia or genocide in Bosnia, because we are, at our core, a compassionate populace.

Given this, I still don't think that the 281 million of us who live south of the north can get worked up over a group of French-separatist Language Police in Quebec who are concerned about the pollution of their language by English-isms. And that is exactly what the creators of Fiddler Sub-Terrain, a new musical billed as a satire of you know what other musical, and currently being performed at La Mama E. T. C., would like us to do.

There is so much wrong with Fiddler Sub-Terrain that it's hard to know where to start. The acting is amateurish, the music tuneless and the lyrics insipid. But since the issue here is the French Language Police, let's just look at the creators' use of language. Their musical is not a satire but rather a template onto which writer Oren Safdie and composer/lyricist Ronnie Cohen have force-fitted an issue near and dear to their hearts.

Thus, Tevye and Golda have become Teddy and Gilda; the daughters Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava are called Sciatica, Hovel and Mocha, Yente is Yente-Yente, and one of the suitors, Perchik, in a bit of inspired humor, is called Boychick.

The story, roughly, is about an upper-middle-class Jewish family facing financial ruin because the Language Police are trying to drive them out. Teddy's brassiere business is in trouble, his Mercedes (Tevye's horse-drawn cart?) is being repossessed, Gilda likes to spend, and he has three unmarried daughters who need husbands and Green Cards so they can emigrate to the United States.

The potential for humor here is great, but co-directors Safdie and Anthony Patellis have missed the milk-wagon. The humor anticipated from this tale superimposed onto the classic Fiddler on the Roof doesn't materialize. As an example, Teddy (Anthony Patellis) is characterized as a very rich Jew with a gold Star of David as big as a pickle jar cover. This comes off as heavy as a day-old bagel, and as tasteless as chicken soup without salt.

I really wish I could say something good about this show because it's evident how hard everyone involved has worked on it. But rethinking is needed to bring out its potential and ideas.

Directed by Oren Safdie and Anthony Patellis
Book by Oren Safdie
Original music and lyrics by Ronnie Cohen
Choreography by Janine Molinari
With Anthony Patellis as Teddy; Mary Ann Conk as Gilda; Janine Molinari as Hovel; Michelle Solomon as Sciatica; Amy Shure as Mocha; Ali Anderson as boychick; Sean Devine as Macaloney; Michael Gargani as Yente-Yente; Nick Locilento as Landsman/Nemiroff; Sean Power as Maudit; Fritz Michel as The Writer.
At First Floor Theatre at La MaMa E. T. C., 74 E. 4th Street. Performances: Thursday through Saturday at 7:30PM, Sunday at 3PM. Tickets: $28-$35. Student rush seats at $10 available one hour before performance at box office. Call 212-475-7710. Tickets: $15.
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with 1 intermission
1/04/01-1/28/01; opening 1/07/01
Reviewed by Barbara K. Mehlman based on September 8, 2000 preview performance

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