Arts and Entertainment

'Fiddler on the Roof,' in the middle of the forest | REVIEW

Doug Knoop as Tevye (foreground) and Bianca Raso as Chava in
Doug Knoop as Tevye (foreground) and Bianca Raso as Chava in 'Fiddler on the Roof' at Snoqualmie Falls Forest Theater.
— image credit: Brian Scott, courtesy of Snoqualmie Falls Forest Theater

In Fall City, hidden at a particularly sharp corner and behind a dozen potholes of Southeast David Powell Road, sits the entrance.

Travel another half-mile up increasingly narrow hillside road and you find yourself in the main clearing at the epicenter of 95 acres of forest across the river from the Snoqualmie Falls. From here, it’s another brisk walk through the woods to your destination, the entire reason for your day-trip out into the wilderness: an outdoor production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Snoqualmie Falls Forest Theater and Family Park is closed to the general public for most of the year, except for six weekends when the private nonprofit park puts on its annual summer stock production to fulfill its mission of promoting the theatrical arts. Doubtless, the park’s directors would hope to wow some new memberships out of the audience, but it’s a soft sell built on a foundation of merit: they offer nothing more than an inexpensive, well-produced show and barbecue dinner in a wilderness setting.

“Fiddler on the Roof” proves to be an energetic and charming performance in the hands of its two dozen person cast, which includes a number of actors culled from the Bellevue College drama department. From the moment they “fade in,” running short vignettes of life in Anatevka before the show truly begins, to Tevye’s final farewell, the cast effectively fills their low-tech setting — without dramatic lighting, set changes or microphones — with the personality and atmosphere of Jewish Russia in the early 20th Century.

The musical — now 50 years old — is well known: Jewish patriarch Tevye (Doug Knoop) marries off his three eldest daughters and stands by as each departs further and further from traditions he holds dear. Meanwhile, the czarist government steadily makes life more difficult for Anatevka’s Jewish inhabitants.

Knoop plays jovial and exasperated well, putting Tevye forward as a person who, despite his scruples, is too naturally flexible not to bend with the changing winds. This makes him likeable, but it also acts to his detriment later in the story — when Knoop is called upon to put his foot down, it lands like a feather. When he’s burdened with advance knowledge of pogroms, he seems to shrug it off with the same gravitas given to a “past due” letter.

In a cast full of strong voices, Bianca Ruso and Angela Snyder — playing Tevye’s daughters Chava and Hodel, respectively — stand out from the first bars of “Matchmaker” onward.

From the sidelines, John Tembreull and Robin Weakland charm as Lazar Wolf and the matchmaker Yente. The actors lend character to their characters, particularly when both are stung by the changing traditions in Anatevka.

For audience members who take the half-day to separate themselves from civilization, the Snoqualmie Falls cast doesn’t disappoint: they take that separation and use it to turn the forest, briefly, into a bubble of unreality.

Washington state doesn’t exist here; Anatevka does.

 

 

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