Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

From `Lear' To `Fiddler' on New York's Stages


By John BeaufortSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / December 4, 1990


Even in an unexceptional season like the current one, Broadway and Off Broadway shows offer range and vitality. Here is a sampling of recent arrivals as covered by the Monitor's New York theater reviewer. SHADOWLANDS Play by William Nicholson. Directed by Elijah Moshinsky. Starring Nigel Hawthorne, Jane Alexander. At the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.

Skip to next paragraph

SHADOWLANDS'' is a deeply compassionate and moving love story. It is also comic, philosophic, and thought provoking. William Nicholson's dramatization of the relationship between an Oxbridge don and what one character calls a ``Jewish-Communist-Christian-American'' gives a lift to the heart and a whole new dimension to the current season.

Mr. Nicholson's script, a successful London stage version of his earlier television drama, opens with C.S. (Jack) Lewis, played by Nigel Hawthorne, giving what could be one of his typical lectures. In the course of it, he touches on such matters as love, kindness, and pain (``God's megaphone to wake us''). Mr. Hawthorne's Jack presents the very model of a self-assured British academic. But when it comes to women, Jack is not self-assured. Quite the contrary.

Into his bachelor life comes Joy Davidman (played by Jane Alexander), an American fan Jack has come to know through their correspondence. Unhappily married (she will ultimately obtain her divorce), Joy has come to England with her young son. Diffident but kindly Jack gives Joy a temporary home. Later, when she decides to live in England, Jack marries Joy to provide her with resident status. But this is strictly a marriage of convenience. Meanwhile, a deeper tie is forming.

Hawthorne, known to American TV viewers for his appearances on ``Yes [Prime] Minister'' and other series, relishes the banter of the high table and plays the intellectual's game with professorial zest.

Joy is the ultimate outsider in the closed circle. When one of them condescendingly observes that women have no souls, Joy retorts: ``I need a little guidance here: Are you being offensive or merely stupid?'' Miss Alexander's delivery of the line received one of the biggest laughs that night.

With Joy's illness - and the doctor's dire prognosis - comes Jack's realization of how much he loves this spiky American. With the skill of a comedian, Hawthorne handles Jack's rationalization of his decision to wed a divorcee.

``Shadowlands'' ends sadly. But because of the depth of love that has been expressed and shared, it is not a depressing play. Much of this is due to Nicholson's wit and style as a dramatist. The production is directed with great skill by Elijah Moshinsky. FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

Musical with book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, based on Sholem Aleichem stories. Jerome Robbins direction reproduced by Ruth Mitchell, Robbins choreography reproduced by Sammy Dallas Bayes. Starring Topol. At the Gershwin Theatre.

WHAT a pleasure it is to welcome back Tevye, the philosophical dairyman, his tart-tongued wife Golde, their independent-minded daughters, and the enduring Anatevkans who inhabit a vanished Sholem Aleichem world in ``Fiddler on the Roof.''

The folk of the Stein-Harnick-Bock musical adaptation have lost none of their endearing liveliness since their Broadway debut in 1964. If anything, their happy-sad history from the days of czarist Russia has grown mellower over the years.

Billed as the 25th-anniversary production, this revival stars Israel's Topol, who is no stranger to Tevye or to a widespread audience beyond his nation's borders. The personable, solidly built actor-singer moves through the role with affectionate familiarity and stage-commanding authority. From the moment he barks out ``Tradition,'' we know that Tevye isn't going to abandon the ways of his fathers without a struggle.

The tale is woven together in the Bock-Harnick tunes and in the Jerome Robbins dances faithfully reproduced here by Sammy Dallas Bayes in what amounts to a tribute to a Broadway classic. The vocal performances are generally of a high order. As for the succession of wonderful dance numbers, one could scarcely ask more of the verve with which they have been animated at the Gershwin.

KING LEAR Tragedy by William Shakespeare. Directed by Gerald Freedman. Starring Hal Holbrook. At the Roundabout Theatre through Dec. 9.