Torrington native draws upon her Jewish heritage for “Gefilte Fish Chronicles”
By Cindy Mindell
TORRINGTON – The new musical, “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles,” just ended its debut run at the Warner Theatre. Among the cast members who took their final bows was Torrington native and current resident Lana Peck, who brought her own Jewish background to the show.
Peck grew up in the small local Jewish community, attending Hebrew school at Beth El Synagogue. Her musical foray began early. “I’ve been singing for as long as I can recall,” Peck says. “I was exposed to musical theater early on: my mother would play Broadway show albums, my dad would play show tunes on our piano, and my grandfather, who was a professional actor in Los Angeles, taught me ‘Matchmaker’ from ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ when I was five or six and he encouraged my passion.” Ten years later, Peck played the role of Yente in a high-school production of the musical.
At local theater performances, “I can still recall the feeling of gripping the arms of my chair to keep myself from jumping up to sing with the cast,” she says. “Perhaps there’s some residual energy left over after each show that lingers in the space of a theater that is exciting to me, because just being there feels welcoming.”
Now a full-time musical and visual performing artist, Peck composes and performs her own songs (including an a capella mélange of “Hatikvah” and “Tikvatenu”). “I love most anything creative, whether it’s singing, acting, songwriting, drawing, puppetry, prop-building, animation, etc.,” she says. “Theater allows me a place to do that.”
Peck was especially drawn to “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles” because of her own family history: her maternal grandmother, Ida Rubin, came to the U.S. from Minsk, the same migratory path followed by the story’s characters. Peck’s great-grandmother, Rose Rubin, was a butcher in the old country; the wedding scene in the show takes place in the family’s butcher shop. “My mom told me about how it was common in the 1940s to have live carp swimming in the bathtub, something that gets referenced in the show,” she says, “but I will admit: I had never heard of chulent before this show!”
Peck played three roles in the musical: the 12-year-old girl, Rebecca; the 20-something woman, Madison; and a 101-year-old rabbi in 1950s-era Brooklyn.
“My background and early religious training were helpful, certainly,” she says of her approach to the characters. “For instance, I came in already knowing [the song,] ‘Shalom Aleichem,’ which I sing as the rabbi in the show, and I also knew not
to let my tallis touch the ground.”
While “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles” is based on the story of several generations of an American Jewish family, the play’s writers did not focus much on religious or Yiddish-language elements, Peck says, possibly in order to express more universal themes. “A part of me wishes they had more specifics in there to do just that,” she says. “I think universality can be found in specificity; when you give an audience specifics, they naturally draw what’s true and common for themselves out of it. You add a Jewish prayer or saying or superstition, you’ll get a non-Jewish audience member to relate in their own way; as long as it’s real and from the heart.”
The experience caused Peck to think about family and connection. “My rabbi character gives a speech that sums up a little of what I thought was at the heart of the show,” she says. “He talks about how the wedding chuppah should be filled with symbols of your ancestors and you carry that with you. At the end of the show, the generations who passed on are reunited again onstage. To me, it speaks to how who we are now is made up of who we came from. We can draw strength from that connection. It can be very validating to find what you share. If you learn about who your elders were as people and their stories, you can see where you get your gifts and personality traits from, even the ‘crazy-making’ kind of traits. Everybody’s a little bit ‘crazy’ in a good way, yes?”
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