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Austin Pendleton to direct ‘Fiddler’ at New Rep

Austin Pendleton, pictured in 2009.
Austin Pendleton, pictured in 2009. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images/file)

Austin Pendleton, who played Motel the tailor in the original 1964 Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof’’ and went on to a career as a respected actor and director in film, television, and theater, will direct “Fiddler’’ at Watertown’s New Repertory Theatre this December.

“The idea is to really look at the play in its most Brechtian sense, bring it down to its story and not get too involved with the more spectacular notions of production, but really get it focused on the human lives,’’ New Rep artistic director Jim Petosa said in a telephone interview. “That’s what Austin is really excited about.’’

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Starring Jeremiah Kissel as Tevye, “Fiddler’’ will represent another chapter in Pendleton’s relationship with New Rep, where he has played the title role in “King Lear,’’ Vladimir in “Waiting for Godot,’’ and the Marquis de Sade in “Quills.’’ New Rep also produced Pendleton’s play “Orson’s Shadow’’ in 2007, and gave him its Lifetime Artistic Achievement award last year.

“Fiddler’’ (which is currently on Broadway in a revival starring Danny Burstein as Tevye), will be part of a 2016-17 season at New Rep that will also include a newly revised version of Lydia R. Diamond’s early play, “The Gift Horse’’; Johnny Lee Davenport as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in “Thurgood’’; and Bobbie Steinbach as Golda Meir, prime minister of Israel, in “Golda’s Balcony.’’

“The overall notion of the season is that by looking back you can find ideas or experiences that resonate for us in this present time,’’ said Petosa.

The season will kick off Sept. 3-25 with “Regular Singing,’’ the final play in Richard Nelson’s tetralogy about the Apple Family. To be directed by Weylin Symes and presented in association with Stoneham Theatre, “Regular Singing’’ takes place on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and will star Joel Colodner, Karen MacDonald, Laura Latreille, Sarah Newhouse, Bill Mootos, and Paul Melendy.

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Next will be CP Taylor’s “Good,’’ a drama about an initially decent-seeming university professor in 1930s Germany who rationalizes the evils of Nazism and eventually helps perpetrate them himself. Directed by Petosa and starring Michael Kaye as the professor and Tim Spears as his friend, a Jewish psychiatrist, “Good’’ will run Oct. 8-30.

“Fiddler,’’ which features music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and a book by Joseph Stein, is slated for Dec. 2-24.

The Supreme Court has been in the news lately with the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and assertions by Republican congressional leaders that they will not consider any nominee President Obama puts forward. “Thurgood,’’ by George Stevens Jr., in which Davenport will portray Marshall, the first black member of the Supreme Court, will be presented at New Rep Jan. 7-Feb. 5, 2017, during the final month of the presidency of Obama, the first black president.

Petosa will direct “Brecht on Brecht’’ from Feb. 4-March 5, 2017, which he described as a “collage piece’’ that looks at the life and work of Bertolt Brecht, featuring text by Brecht and songs by his collaborator Kurt Weill. From March 25 to April 16, 2017, Steinbach will star in William Gibson’s “Golda’s Balcony,’’ directed by Judy Braha, an account of Meir’s historic rise from schoolteacher in Milwaukee to become the first and only woman to serve as prime minister of Israel.

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Closing out the season from April 22-May 14, 2017, will be Diamond’s “The Gift Horse,’’ directed by Petosa, which is about an African-American teacher and artist reexamining her past, including her college days, and trying to figure out how it fits into who she is now. Petosa said that Diamond (“Stick Fly,’’ “Smart People’’) is taking the opportunity to rework “The Gift Horse,’’ which premiered about 15 years ago.


Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com.