, Port Arthur, Texas

July 11, 2013

Joint effort of 'Fiddler' a family affair

Erinn Callahan
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — The family that sings together, stays together — sounds crazy, no?

Not to Tom and Linda Neal. Beginning July 18, the married couple will reprise their roles in Lamar State College-Port Arthur and Port Arthur Little Theatre’s joint production of “Fiddler on the Roof” — a timeless tale of tradition, family and survival in the tumultuous times of 1905 Russia.

Tom Neal had his first brush with “Fiddler” during his sophomore year at Lamar University, when an unexpected vacancy in the cast led to him playing the role of tailor Motel Kamzoli. When he learned that Port Arthur Little Theatre was presenting the show in 1996, he seized the opportunity to be a part of it — though he sought a different role this time. After watching the 1971 film, Tom found himself intrigued by Chaim Topol’s portrayal of beleagured milkman Tevye.

“I really did enjoy his delivery and his style, and the comedic part as well,” said Tom, vice president of student services at LSC-PA. “I really thought I could deliver something on that role.”

Director Keith Cockrell thought so too, and Tom and Linda found themselves cast as Tevye and his acerbic wife, Golde. Portraying the wife of her real-life husband came easy to Linda, she said.

“We play off each other because we know each other so well,” said Linda Neal, a dyslexia therapist at Dick Dowling Elementary in Port Arthur. “When we are actually together onstage, we know each other's dynamic enough that if he makes a mistake, I can still know where he's going.”

“You notice that she said when I make a mistake,” Tom added, chuckling. “She’s dead on.”

Tom and Linda aren’t the only familiar faces in “Fiddler.” Cockrell, now director of theater at LSC-PA, has returned to his role as director. Including three runs as an actor, this is his fifth production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“There are very few foolproof shows, but this one almost is — I don’t know how badly you would have to do it for it not to work,” Cockrell said. “That combination of being one of the funniest musicals ever written, and still having a heart, just makes it so much fun to go back to.”

In 1996, 12-year-old Heather Capello played the role of Shprintze, Tevye’s third-oldest daughter. Now 29, the Port Neches native found herself once again among Tevye’s brood — this time as Hodel, his feisty second-eldest daughter who leaves her family behind to elope to Siberia with her lover.

“It's time for her to leave her family and see what's out there in the world,” Capello said. “I remember that perspective — I went out and saw what I could, but I discovered that my family is very important to me.”

Change is a prevailing theme throughout “Fiddler,” and although a number of names on the program are the same, change is still something that the entire cast must contend with, Cockrell said.

“They have the video from where we did it before, and they'll say, 'But you had me go here!'” Cockrell said. “And I'm saying, 'I don't care. Now I want you to go here.' Fortunately they’re good natured about it, so it’s working out really well. I think all it’s added is a little more richness.”

Capello said she has simply “grown up a little bit” since her portrayal of Shprintze.

“Then it was more about having a good time, and I did,” she said. “Now I think things are a little more relevant. I appreciate it more.”

For Tom and Linda Neal, it all boils to gaining more parenting experience — although, Tom said wryly, Golde hasn’t left his wife entirely.

“Linda is just a sweet person, and so unflappable,” Tom Neal said. “Golde's quite demanding and has an opinion about stuff pretty quick. I've noticed a little change in her since she's done this part. I think a little Golde's been creeping in.”


Twitter: @ErinnPA