FORT COLUMBIA - "Tradition, tradition! Tradition, tradition!" The first words sung in the opening scene of the latest production by the Peninsula Players is truly at the root of what the story and its characters are all about.

In "Fiddler on the Roof," a play which unfolds in the small Jewish community of Anatevka in southern Russia at the turn-of-the-century, tradition is what keeps that community together through the hardships they face.

"A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck," says Michael Campellone, as Tevye, the poor dairyman at the center of the story. "It isn't easy. You may ask 'Why do we stay up there if it's so dangerous?'Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: Tradition!"

One tradition that is soon front and center is that of arranged marriages, as referenced in the song "Matchmaker," sung by Tevye's three oldest daughters - Tzeitel played by Rayna Goodwin, Chava played by Kelly Weigardt and Hodel played by Brooke Flood - as Yente, the town matchmaker visits and proposes a match for the oldest daughter Tzeitel to the town butcher Lazar Wolf, played by Michael McNatt.

"But Mama, the men she finds. The last one was so old and he was bald. He had no hair," Tzeitel tells her mother after Yente's visit.

"A poor girl without a dowry can't be so particular. You want hair, marry a monkey," says her mother, played by Cindy Flood.

Tevye and Wolf agree to the match over drinks, but is soon to have his mind changed when his daughter and the town's tailor Motel break tradition and proclaim their love for each other.

"Times are changing, Reb Tevye. The thing is, over a year ago, your daughter, Tzeitel, and I gave each other our pledge that we would marry," says Motel, played by Scott Clardy.

"You gave each other a ... pledge?" said Tevye.

"Yes, Papa. We gave each other our pledge," said Tzeitel.

This shift to a more modern thinking on such things begins a chain of events that changes the entire family over time.

Another major change that is seen throughout the town is that of the Russian revolution. Czarist soldiers make their presence known around town as they have jurisdiction - at times the guards are pleasant, joining the men in a bar room dance, while other times they are most definitely unfriendly, laying waste to a wedding celebration. It is later that the Russian constable of the town tells the Jewish community that they have three days to leave town. But as the people of the town head out to leave the only home they've ever known, Tevye sees the fiddler, and waves for him to come with them.

"So it is this juxtaposition of humor and pathos that I find so appealing in 'Fiddler,'" said director Barbara Poulshock. "The intimacy that envelops this so very Jewish story resonates with all of us, no matter our walk of life. And Tevye talks directly to us in the audience, inviting us to join in the full richness of his experience."

The Fort Columbia Theater was chosen as the venue for this performance partly due to its intimacy, which works well with the material.

The quaint theatre's ambiance, aesthetics, acoustical qualities and intimacy create an ideal environment for the telling of this story, according to Poulschock.

"Also, for me, a personal significance: Fort Columbia Theatre was built in 1905, the same year that the musical is set and the same year that my husband's family escaped the pogroms in Kishenev, Russia."

The fact that Poulschock has a direct line to the forced exile of Jews in Russia makes for a poigant side note.

Poulschock is joined by Laurie Carter as producer, as well as the largest musical ensemble used in a Peninsula Players production. The four-piece band is made up of Barbara Bate on piano, Randy Brown on bass, Rhonda Atkins on clarinet and Jeffrey Reynolds on violin - who also portrays the fiddler in the play.

Along with the stirring musical numbers, the play also features some exciting choreography by Cindy Flood, who has Russian soldiers flying through the air in the bar room dance sequence.

The play opens on Friday Feb. 29 and plays through Sunday. March 16. Shows on Fridays and Saturdays are at 7 p.m. and Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 and tickets for children 14 and under are $10. They are available at Okie's Sentry Market in Ocean Park, Stormin' Norman's in Long Beach, Imperial Schooner Restaurant at the Port of Ilwaco and at Paint 'n the Town Red in Astoria. For further information call Rita Smith at 665-0028 or Laurie Carter at 642-8667.

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