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59E59 Theaters, New York

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story
5.0Reviewer's Rating

With his resplendent beard and fantastical locks, donning purple coat and matching hat, Ben Caplan is the dazzling centerpiece of the creative and unforgettable tale of Roumanian immigrants who arrive in Nova Scotia seeking a new life. Centered on two young Jewish refugees who find the path forward is still rooted in the past, this performance piece is brilliantly moving and often riotously funny, an emotional juxtaposition of humanity and humor that deepens the experience.

Caplan appears out of red shipping container, the folding doors of which are opened to reveal a klezmer band within a simple set. Two in the band, Mary Fay Coady and Chris Weatherstone, are also players, in keeping with the economical structure of the piece. Caplan’s Tom Waits-like delivery serves as MC, narrator, Greek chorus, conscience, and prods the audience to see something of themselves in the narrative.

Chaya and Chaim meet at Canadian immigration in Nova Scotia. She has her family in tow, he has none; he has lost them in a grisly pogrom, the full details of which are painfully clarified as the piece progresses. For him, it’s love at first sight; for her, she is still mourning her late husband. Yet there is undeniable chemistry and beautiful timing between them. As they meet again on a train from Halifax to Montreal, their relationship deepens and they launch into a new life together. Yet the pull of the past, of lives and loves lost, is strong: “Outside of Bucharest there were fields of flowers.”

Once married, the newlyweds have a big reveal: Chaya was not her husband’s first choice. Upon hearing this, she wails “May God kill your first-born child!” At which point the MC shouts, “Mazel Tov!” – which again stirs the drama and humor together. Caplan asks, “So maybe? But maybe not. Can these people be happy together? What have they been chosen for?”

Canada today is seen as a welcoming home for immigrants, but Caplan points out that when this couple arrived at the turn of the century, “Old Stock” Canadians showed their disdain for the growing number of Jewish immigrants and “Semitic hoardes.” He explodes the modern ideal of Canada as an open door for refugees as he explains immigrants were screened for “Canadian values.” Chaim’s traumatic experiences during the pogrom in his village are recounted as he fears that horror coming to Canada, and fears that he will encounter the same anti-Semitism he has left behind.

To counterbalance the heavy themes, Caplan and writers Moscovitch and Barry weave in gut-busting songs. In one, the MC lets loose dozens of imaginative metaphors for sex. A monologue about the fluidity, rigidity, and even preposterousness of The Bible leads to an inspired song about unwritten laws of life and spirit which should be followed – for “the Book is only a lens to focus on the now.”

The couple’s new baby contracts typhus, and in the performance’s most moving piece, Caplan transforms into a rabbi singing “El Malei Rachamim,” a Jewish prayer that originated in Eastern Europe as a lament to the departed, but also seeks compassion from God. Here again, Caplan and the writers movingly and cleverly juxtapose the past with the present. The prayer conveys loss and connects to the Old World and Jewish heritage, and its appearance lead the audience to believe the worst. Caplan is a profound performer, who can swing between humor and gravity with ease, and here his incredible gifts are on display.

In the beautifully composed finale, Caplan delivers a poignant recap of Chaya and Chaim’s family as it grows up, grows old, from graduation and children to grandchildren – a joyous, celebratory legacy that closes the performance on the ultimate high note. The finale has the performers moving back into the shipping container and the doors closed, a perfectly executed end. Old Stock is a beautifully structured piece – go to see it for Caplan’s magnificent abilities to transport and uplift you.

  • Drama
  • By Hannah Moscovitch, Ben Caplan, and Christian Barry
  • Director: Christian Barry
  • Cast: Ben Caplan, Mary Fay Coady, Chris Weatherstone, Jamie Kronick, Graham Scott
  • 59E59 Theaters, New York
  • Until 1st April 2018

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