Emotionally, it’s been a loaded few months for married actors Etai Benson and Alexandra Socha. For the first time in their six-year relationship, they’re working together on stage, playing Motel and Tzeitel in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Fiddler on the Roof. Adding to that, Socha converted to Judaism last April, and shortly after that, they had their first child, a baby boy. It’s unsurprising to say that this moment in their lives and careers means a lot to them, professionally and personally, but it does. Here, they share their thoughts with us.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Doing Fiddler right now must be a very beautiful and strange thing for both of you, with all that’s going on in the world at large and in your lives, personally.
Alexandra Socha: On top of that, I converted to Judaism in April after a couple of years of studying. I’ve always liked Fiddler. I’ve always understood its importance in the canon, but it’s very cool to approach the show now with fresh knowledge. People keep joking that I know more about Judaism than they do, but it’s just fresh. It’s been really exciting to see the material through that lens and understand aspects of it that I didn’t understand before. I think what makes Fiddler such a successful piece is how specific it is, and yes, the more specific you get, the more universal you are — it’s about children and parents and generational changes and all these things lots of people can understand — but if you’re working on it, I believe that you have to come from it from a place of Jewishness that’s as specific as possible. If you try to play the universal, it’ll be a wash. It’s great to approach it and be like “Oh, I don’t have to do any dramaturgical research. I just know stuff now.”
Etai Benson: This show popped up for us seemingly out of nowhere and we were so excited to be able to work together. We have never worked together before. We met years ago doing a reading, but since then…you know, unless you count thousands of hours of self-tapes, we haven’t really —
Alexandra: I do not count thousands of hours of self-tapes. [Laughs]
Etai: So that, alone, was very rewarding. It’s art imitating life. To get married on stage. Our characters have a baby and to be able to do that on stage after doing it in life is very exciting. But this was all before the world changed. Every single day we are surrounded by Jewish grief and Jewish pain, and suddenly, through artistry and our work, we’re able to channel this immense Jewish joy together on stage. It feels particularly healing and cathartic to be doing it right now together.
Alexandra: It’s actually an incredibly joyful show until act two, and this production really leans into that.
Etai: Which is the original intent in some ways. Jerome Robbins would say “I want to celebrate the life of the Shtetl,” and it feels like we’re honoring that.
Alexandra: It’s also how Jews have survived this long — through their joy and vitality.
How does just having had a baby yourselves add resonance to your journeys as Tzeitel and Motel?
Etai: Thematically, the show is dealing with tradition and the passing on of tradition. What happens when children grow up and decide to break from that tradition? Being parents, you think about those themes in a different way. And also with Alexandra having converted recently, we’ve had so many conversations in the years we’ve been together about what we want to pass onto our child.
Alexandra: What kind of identity we want to instil in this tiny person who might reject everything someday.
Etai: He might be a Chava, we don’t know. But having a baby and doing this show that is so focused on the connection and friction between generations made us think about it with a new perspective.
What does it like to be playing Tzeitel and Motel with each other as a couple?
Alexandra: It’s awesome. I really like going to work together. Right before we started, we went “I hope we have chemistry together.” Sometimes you have chemistry off stage, not on, and vice versa, but I think we do. We’re having a lot of fun at work. It’s also great, with the whole new identity of parenthood, to go to work and put on the other part of who we are and see it in each other.
Etai: We’ve been together for almost six years, three of which were Covid years, which counts for much longer, but when you’ve been with someone that long, you do feel like you know them inside out. To see this other side of Alexandra, not just as my wife, my partner, but as an artist, is special. It was somewhat of a private thing for us, and to be able to watch each other work out our stuff, it’s very cool.
Alexandra: I wish it could go on for longer.
Etai: Me too. But we’re appreciating that this doesn’t just happen. It may not happen again.
Alexandra: We hope that it will, but if not, we’re just going to start campaigning ourselves.
Etai: But to be together, working opposite each other, playing a couple that gets married on stage, that has a baby, getting to live our relationship on stage in Fiddler —
Alexandra: There are so many layers of meaning.
Etai: My brain and heart…I can’t really wrap my head around it. I’m appreciating it and enjoying it so much.