“Invasion” Afterthoughts

SPOILER ALERT!  PLOT POINTS FOLLOW!

Debbie & Charlie

Three days after seeing Steve Peterson’s wonderful new play The Invasion of Skokie at Chicago Dramatists, I’m still enthralled.  Watching Invasion on Sunday, I learned some new things about my family, my world, and myself.

Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones basically likes the play too, but he thinks it has two major flaws.  First “a sudden switch in Debbie’s intent with her fiancé seems to come out of nowhere,” he writes.  Jones is wrong.  Peterson makes it very clear that Debbie does not want to tell her parents about her marriage plans on the eve of the Nazi invasion.  Debbie knows her father Morry is distracted, and she wants her fiancé Charlie to wait.  So the fact that Charlie insists on making the engagement announcement anyway, challenging Morry at a particularly vulnerable time and practically forcing him to say no, makes her doubt Charlie as a marriage partner.

Sure Debbie loves Charlie, just like she loves Morry, but what if all men are basically “male chauvinist pigs” with big snouts itching to pop out on their faces at the very first sign of stress?  “I don’t want another man in my life who’s trying to dominate me,” says Debbie to her mother Sylvia.  As a Second Wave Feminist born in 1951, I’m just about the same age as the “Debbie Kaplan” character in Invasion, so of course I completely identify with this.  Trust me, readers: those would have been my exact thoughts, probably in those exact words, had I found myself in a comparable situation in 1978!

Then Jones says: “It’s also tough to swallow how Charlie hangs around helping Morry after he is treated so shabbily.”  Jones is wrong about this too.  Charlie has known Morry for years, so Morry’s mercurial moods can hardly be a surprise.  More important, Charlie also knows Sylvia, so he understands that helping Morry will push Sylvia deeper into his corner (and probably Debbie too).

But for all that Charlie isn’t “hanging around” at all—Charlie is protecting his turf.  By the time Morry tells Charlie “Young men get what they want,” Sylvia has already told Debbie that Morry was once “handsome, funny, bold.” So Morry is speaking from experience here: he knows that Charlie has already staked his claim, and he’ll never give up without a fight.

Did Peterson set out to write a few new scenes for Fiddler on the Roof?  My guess is that intention was subliminal, and he may even be shocked to hear me say this.  But as someone who’s studied Fiddler for years now, I’m here to tell you Peterson has done a fine job of it nonetheless!  Sometimes the person with the best view is the one who’s looking in thru the window…

FROM MY REVIEW OF TOPOL’S FAREWELL TOUR (6/10/09):

“When Tevye introduces himself in the opening number, he says: ‘I have five daughters!,’ but later he tells the butcher Lazar Wolf: ‘I always wanted a son.’ In this production, Tevye gets his wish. Motel-the-Tailor genuinely loves Tevye’s eldest daughter Tzeitel, and Fyedka-the-Russian genuinely loves Tevye’s third daughter Chava, but Liberman and Van Tielen convinced me that they each love Tevye too. Yes, they want to be husbands to his daughters, but they also want to be his sons-in-law; they both want Tevye to make them members of his special family.”

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