Village Theatre’s ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ stars dynamic duo

October 30, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Eric Polani Jensen (left) and Bobbi Kotula star as Tevye and Golde in Village Theatre’s upcoming production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ By Mike Hipple/Village Theatre

The lead actors in Village Theatre’s soon-to-open “Fiddler on Roof” share the same easy rhythms as a long-married couple — a comfortable arrangement, because Eric Polani Jensen and Bobbi Kotula play a long-married couple in the classic musical.

The professional relationship between Jensen and Kotula extends back to the early 1990s, and the duo is poised to share the stage again Nov. 7 as “Fiddler on the Roof” opens. In the musical, Jensen is Tevye, a Jewish milkman struggling to stick to tradition in czarist Russia, and Kotula is Tevye’s sharp-tongued but soft-hearted wife.

The duo often shares a stage at Village Theatre and other local playhouses. The familiarity comes across as Jensen and Kotula discussed the theme at the show’s core. In the opening number and throughout the musical, “Fiddler on the Roof” focuses on the tug-of-war between tradition and change.

“Yes, it’s about a Jewish family in Russia, but it’s also about every family in the world, and what every family has gone through since the dawn of time,” Jensen said.

‘He leads everybody with grace’

The musical unfolds in Anatevka, a shtetl, or village, in Russia. The hardship in the shtetl and unrelenting threats against Jews mean the family is often perched as precariously as a fiddler on a roof. Tevye mentions the image in the prologue before the opening number.

“How wonderful that you have these characters who feel the completeness of life, both all of its sorrow and all of its joy,” Jensen said. “They live through the extremes of it, and they don’t let one or the other stop them from existing because of it.”

If you go

‘Fiddler on the Roof’

  • Village Theatre — Francis J. Gaudette Theatre
  • 303 Front St. N.
  • Nov. 7 to Dec. 30
  • Showtimes vary
  • $22 to $63
  • 392-2202 or www.villagetheatre.org

The lead actors shared compliments — and cheese — during a recent interview before rehearsal, as Jensen sipped from Kotula’s thermos mug.

“He leads everybody with grace and poise and generosity and joy,” she said. “That sets the tone for the cast. The rest of the cast works really hard because they see Eric — who’s got the line load of the century — being as calm and present, always available, no excuses.”

Jensen thanked Kotula for the tribute, and she offered a quick “You’re welcome, honey” in response.

Moreover, Jensen eschewed glue and artificial hair, and instead nurtured a lush beard for the role as the poor milkman.

Kotula harbored a lifelong dream to play Golde, and tamped down doubts during the audition for the Village Theatre role.

“I’ve always wanted to play Golde, because I like who she is, but I also felt that because I’m usually cast as the funny character actress, that playing Golde I may not be seen as that,” she said.

‘I know how hard Golde works’

In the audition before director David Ira Goldstein, “I just tried to be what Bobbi’s Golde would be — and thankfully, that was the one they wanted,” Kotula said.

The actors and the characters share similarities — “I can yell,” Kotula cautions — and the resemblances attracted Jensen and Kotula to the roles.

“I know how hard Golde works. I know how prideful she is, in a good way,” Kotula said.

“Fiddler on the Roof” is based on “Tevye and His Daughters” and other tales from Yiddish author and playwright Sholem Aleichem.

Jensen and Kotula delved into research for the roles. Kotula read works from Jewish authors, and Jensen attended Sabbath services at Seattle’s Emanuel Congregation synagogue. The director asked a rabbi to speak to the cast about Jewish traditions.

“One of the things Tevye says is, ‘Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do,’” Jensen said. “Especially in our world today, we spend more time than not trying to figure out who the heck we are in life.”

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