I’m in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, reviewing the new revival of Fiddler on the Roof, directed by David Leveaux, and A.R. Gurney’s Big Bill, a play about Bill Tilden, the legendary tennis player who was arrested twice in his declining years for molesting teenage boys.
Fiddler I liked very much, and also found unexpectedly timely:
This isn’t one of those self-consciously “dark” revivals of a famous musical: Mr. Leveaux’s unfussy, trickery-free staging lets the show speak for itself. But at a time when the world is blighted by a sickening recrudescence of anti-Semitism, “Fiddler”‘s tough-minded departures from musical-comedy orthodoxy cannot but be seen in the lurid light of current events. The first act ends with a brutal pogrom, the second with the forced emigration of the villagers of Anatevka. The Minskoff Theatre is a big house, but when the Russian constable called Tevye a “Jewish dog,” the audience grew so still that you could have heard an hourglass run out….
I also liked most things about Big Bill, especially Mark Lamos’ staging and John Michael Higgins’ performance in the title role, though I had some nagging doubts about the play itself:
As Tilden steers closer and closer to the brink of disaster, “Big Bill” shrugs off its deceptive patness and acquires a sharp, even ragged edge. Why, then, did I go home dissatisfied? Because the pitiful realities of Tilden’s life have been subtly but unmistakably sanitized by Mr. Gurney. We never hear directly from any of the boys he seduced, for instance, though we are treated to a brief speech of self-justification at play’s end: “You could say that if only I had lived in a more accommodating society, I might have met someone…someone I could have loved…someone with whom I could have shared my life, without fear or shame.”
I don’t need to have everything spelled out, but I wonder whether Mr. Gurney meant for the audience to recall that for Bill Tilden, that “someone” would presumably have been a teenager. If he didn’t, he should have, because that puts a different spin on the ball.
No link, so do yourself (and me) a favor and go buy a copy of this morning’s Journal, where you’ll find my drama column nestled in the “Weekend Journal” section among plenty of other good stuff.