Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story
Written by Hannah Moscovitch
A 2b theatre company production, Halifax
Direction, co-lighting and set design by Christian Barry
Music by Ben Caplan and Christian Barry
At Tarragon Theatre until May 26
Featuring: Ben Caplan, Mary Fay Coady, Dani Oore
Having been traveling out of country and only recently arriving home, I wish that I could tell you to rush over to the Tarragon Theatre and see Hannah Moscovitch’s Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story before it closes. Alas, it has been sold out for weeks after its opening in late April. If you went to see it early on, good on you. If you hesitated and thought you might think about it for awhile, shame on you. This is one of the brightest shows to come through town this Toronto theatre season and it’s a pity that the run cannot be extended.
The moment a character called The Wanderer bursts out of the container cargo set down on Pier 2 in Halifax, we in the audience become part of the remarkable and heart rendering journey of Hannah Moscovitch’s great-grandparents, Chaya and Chaim, who arrived in Canada in 1908 from Romania after fleeing the brutal anti-Semitism and state-sanctioned terror known as the pogroms that existed throughout Tsarist Russia and eastern Europe during this period. It is an evening of humor and pathos – family memories, history lesson and just plain great story telling from one of Canada’s finest playwrights framed as part vaudeville and part political cabaret. Its contemporary resonance is as overt as the daily headlines describing the resurgence of neo-nazi attacks and anti-black racism and Islamaphobia that continues to escalate at alarming rates.
How to describe Ben Caplan’s portrayal as the master of ceremonies, called simply The Wanderer? A singing, dancing Jackie Mason on steroids only younger, more heavy set and with a beard might be a start. More a brash busker on the boulevard than a fiddler on the roof, Caplan gets in your face right from the start and slaps you upside the head. Ow! Oh, you don’t like his attitude? Well too bad, because he’s got a lot to say and by the end of 80 minutes running time for this show, he pretty much says it all. The playwright has invested a lot of stage time in this character who is the principal animator and narrator from beginning to end. This bravura performance, sees The Wanderer cracking bawdy jokes one minute while later singing a tear inducing Kel Maleh Rachamim (a song of mourning) as a tribute to Chaim who has lost his entire family in a pogrom. Caplan holds our undivided attention throughout – by whatever means necessary!
The multi-talented supporting cast includes Mary Fay Coady (as Chaya) and Dani Oore (as Chaim) who also play violin and woodwinds respectively, ably assisted by Graham Scott on keyboard and accordion with Jamie Kronick on percussion. The show combines just the right amount of Yiddishkeit and superbly performed klezmer music with a 9 song cycle composed by Caplan (who doubles on banjo and acoustic guitar) and Christian Barry, who not only directed the show but contributed to the set and lighting design as well. This production has the whole gestalt.