Monday, April 29, 2019

After acclaimed performances in Melbourne, NYC, Halifax, Edinburgh and Ottawa, Old Stock; A Refugee Love Story, a collaborative creation by Hannah Moscovitch, Ben Caplan, and Christian Barry is currently running at the Tarragon Theatre until May 26th. 

On the surface this is a simple and brilliantly crafted cabaret-like spectacle that has the kind of raw seamless energy that comes from captivating musical through lines and superb performances. Beneath the paradoxically smooth and richly layered surface of a traveling show (beautifully designed by Lousia Adamson and Christian Barry) lurks the intimate, often tragic details - in musical segments framed by the unfolding dialogue between the central characters. And there is always joy and great hope, within the spoken and sung narratives, and yet they never shy away from the heart breaking details of the devastating pogroms of the early twentieth century.
Ben Caplan as The Wanderer
Ben Caplan, as an emcee/commentator of sorts opens the show with his powerful vocals, gradually moving into the gorgeous nuance and variation his voice skilfully provides. Caplan's formidable presence never lets go, bombarding the stage with a presence that might have overpowered the central performances had they not been so engagingly pitch perfect in the hands of Mary Fay Coady and Dani Oore, as the romantically inclined couple moving through great trauma in order to find a new home in Canada. At one point Caplan's breathtaking and moving song as the rabbi inserts an extended moment of great spiritual beauty at the heart of this tragic yet hopeful journey.

The title of the piece refers to Stephen Harper's thinly disguised racialized remark when he referred to "old stock" Canadian identity, acting as a narrative framework that articulates the trials and tribulations of coming to a new country that continues to possess racialized and religious phobias that still mark the 'Canadian' social and political discourse.

The spoken dialogue, always framed and punctuated by Caplan's presence, tells a detailed familial story that both praises and critiques Canada's historic presence as a refuge for immigrants - yet continually fraught by tragic incidents throughout our diverse national history.

Coady (as Chaya and the violinist) gives a moving and varied performance as she slowly welcomes her shy yet eager suitor into her new life. Oore (as Chaim and on woodwinds) plays the smitten and gently insistent paramour. As the couple move into each others hearts and souls their song and varied emotional rapport reveals the layers of family trauma that have marked their complex refugee love story.

At one point a former paramour's tragic demise becomes a provocative and effective layer of conflict and humour for the new immigrant couple. The span of generations, powerfully  inserted into the overall narrative, reveals the detail and nuance of Canadian identity as it embraces the joy and the profound loss of decades of ongoing international conflict, refuge, and religious and political engagement.

 l-r - Dani Oore (Chaim, woodwinds), Mary Fay Coady (Chaya, violin), Ben Caplan (The Wanderer), Jamie Kronich (drumset), Graham Scott (keyboard and accordion)

Halifax, 1908: two Romanian Jews stand in line at Pier 21 in Halifax, would-be immigrants to an unknown country. Chaim is alone – his family didn’t make it out; Chaya carries her own secret losses. But the New World is giving them a second chance, and they embrace it to the fullest. Narrated by The Wanderer – part showman, part rabbi – this Klezmer rock concert/theatre hybrid stars genre-bending sensation Ben Caplan and is inspired by the real-life story of playwright Hannah Moscovitch’s great-grandparents.
Playwright Hannah Moscovitch, Directed by Christian Barry with Songs by Ben Caplan & Christian Barry*
“A hugely engaging experience” – The Guardian

The Guardian’s Top Recommended Shows (2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival)

★★★★★ “Emotionally engaging, visually stunning and at 80 minutes leaves us still wanting more.” – Musical Theatre Review

TOUR STOPS Halifax, Ottawa, Edinburgh, Edmonton, New York, and Toronto


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