PROVIDENCE – Karen Kessler, who is appearing in the Community Players’ “Fiddler on the Roof,” enjoys a challenge. She met John, her husband of 23 years, at an ex-boyfriend’s wedding. She has two bachelor’s degrees and an MBA – and she’s currently juggling her acting duties alongside her work as the Ocean State Theatre Company’s Director of Marketing and Public Relations. Kessler also directs and choreographs Temple Beth-El’s Purim spiels every year. She recently met with The Jewish Voice to discuss her life and her work.
While in college, Kessler decided that she needed to have a fallback career option in addition to her drama degree. She says, “I got a little nervous about whether I would actually be an actress,” so she picked up a speech and drama education degree. She needn’t have worried, having recently won a Motif award for best actress after appearing in the “Sugar Bean Sisters” with the Community Players, where she serves on the Board of Governors.
A wearer of many hats, Kessler incorporates her varied interests in her numerous roles, “I really am using all my degrees.” She does admit to biting off more than she wants to chew sometimes. Scrambling to devote time to “Fiddler on the Roof” while focusing on the OSTC’s “Les Misérables” (see Sept. 27 issue of the Jewish Voice, “ Dr. Fred Scheff – in tune with himself”), Kessler laughs, “I’m surprised I’m still standing. I’m surprised I know my lines.”
One of the reasons she wanted to make sure she participated in Fiddler on the Roof is her family, a source of support and inspiration. Her mother, who has attended nearly every show in which Kessler has appeared, played Golde, Tevye’s wife, when Kessler was growing up. The fact that the musical is part of her heritage is also a big draw.
Another enticement is the dialect she’ll be using for the role; after all, Yente is “a Jewish busybody with a Russian accent.” While it’s tempting to go big, Kessler is cautious that the audience might miss the really great punch lines or see Yente as a caricature, “She is a little outrageous and, yet, I want to make sure that she’s believable.”
Always attracted to larger-than-life characters, such as Dr. Gorgeous from “The Sisters Rosensweig,” or her favorite role – Bella from “Lost in Yonkers,” a woman with questionable mental capabilities — Kessler enjoys working with Vinny Lupino, a good friend and director who “has a knack for choosing and directing plays with strong female characters.”
Kessler herself likes directing, but can’t make such a great commitment very often. She explains, “Your fingers are in everything,” and hers are already busy.
It’s possible that she’s so skilled at playing extraordinary women because she is one of them. Not mad like Bella or feisty like Dr. Gorgeous or sharp-tongued like Yente, but multi-faceted and scrappy. Go see her in this production of the classic. As Yente might have said, “If God lived on earth, he’d break your windows for missing the Community Players’ Fiddler on the Roof.”
For more information or to order tickets: 726-6860 or thecommunityplayers.org
Irina Missiuro (IMissiuro@gmail.com) is an editorial consultant for The Jewish Voice.