Chaim Topol has played the part of Tevye in Fiddler On the Roof more than 2,500 times. I watched him play the part from the front row of the San Diego Civic Theater last Thursday night. His performance and my experience were profoundly moving.
His performance was so perfect it transcended the limits of what I thought humans were capable of achieving. It was not just a fine performance–fine performances are for the office, or Hollywood. This was magic. My friend, Sue, described it as being like the Grand Canyon: you can’t describe it, you just have to be there.
Every move, every expression, every wave of the hand, every vocal inflection was joyously, achingly real and true. It was as if Topol in his performance had, in Hemingway’s words from A Moveable Feast “written the truest sentence that he knew.”
In C.S. Lewis’ book Voyage of the Dawn Treader Lucy, the youngest, has been sent to find a certain spell in the magician’s book. As she’s looking, she finds a spell called “for the refreshment of the spirit.” As the story goes
“The pictures were fewer here but very beautiful…. She was living in the story as if it were real, and all the pictures were real too. When she had got to the third page and come to the end, she said, ‘That is the loveliest story I’ve ever read or ever shall read in my whole life. Oh, I wish I could have gone on reading it for ten years.’ … and ever since that day, what Lucy means by a good story is a story that reminds her of the forgotten story in the Magician’s book.”
Chaim Topol, I wish that the magnificence of your performance be exceeded only by the joys which life will bring you.
L ‘Chaim, Topol