Review: "Old Stock" at the Tarragon Theatre

Old Stock - Jamie Kronick, Mary Fay Coady, Ben Caplan, Chris Weatherstone, Graham Scott. Photo_ Jamie Kronick.jpg
  • Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic

Playwright Hannah Moscovitch’s project was to learn more of the story behind her paternal family, especially her great grandfather, Chaim Moscovitch (Dani Oore) and her great grandmother Chaya (Mary Fay Coady). They came to Halifax, Canada, in 1908 on a boat. Chaim’s family were all killed in a pogrom in Romania.  In a chilling narration, he recounts to Chaya and to all of us how he found their bodies which is a moment he will never forget. Chaya was coming to Canada with her entire family. Her first husband died in Russia while trying to leave from there.

Chaim was instantly taken by the beauty and charm of Chaya while she was not as intense in her affections as he was. There were some beautiful moments in pausing from Ms. Coady in her conversations with Mr. Oore which magnificently revealed her state of mind without anything being said until the last second.  Very nice work.

Chaim and Chaya meet again later in Montreal where they both settled down separately. Again, his infatuation and love from the first time he saw Chaya never disappeared. Chaya really did not show any interest either way to accept the marriage proposal initially but since her father liked Chaim, she married him. This marriage was a bit rocky from the start as Chaim truly loved and cared for Chaya, but she appeared to be at times cold and noncommittal in feelings for her husband.  As the story progresses and children come along, we do begin to see a growing affection Chaya has for Chaim.

I thought I understood what the term ‘old stock’ meant but researched it anyway just to make sure. It’s a term which refers to people who have lived in a country for several generations. In this case, since Hannah Moscovitch was speaking about her great grandparents arriving in Canada, it is a correct term that her great grandparents are old stock.

Louisa Adamson and Christian Barry’s set design grabbed my attention before the play opened. From what I saw from my seat, it appeared to simply be a wall with what I assumed to be a Yiddish inscription.  I loved hearing the Romanian music as the audience entered and took their seats. Then the Wanderer appears from the top of what now appears to be a playing space of some sort. The wall then opens wide on the stage and reveals a klezmer band.

Director Christian Barry respectfully and affectionately introduces the major themes of this love story, specifically migration and immigration. Ben Caplan is captivating as the gregarious and wildly bizarre narrator, The Wanderer. Mr. Caplan’s Wanderer is a cross between Harvey Fierstein playing Tevye (which I saw him perform in New York) and the dark, brooding, foreboding Emcee a la Alan Cummings from ‘Cabaret’ (which I also saw in New York).

Future audiences be warned there is a moment in the play where Mr. Caplan finds many synonyms and comparisons for the term of ‘making love’. Some of them are quite hilarious.  I didn’t find this moment in poor taste, but I wanted to ensure that future patrons be aware of this sensitive material.

Dani Oore and Mary Fay Coady are quite charming in their performances as Chaim and Chaya.  We begin to see the growing affection between the two of them as their relationship develops, sometimes poignantly, sometimes hurtfully, sometimes silently. I also liked those moments where Mr. Oore and Ms. Coady became part of the orchestra for the musical numbers.

And yet I also felt something was missing in the production.  I had to think about this for the entire day before I began to write. I’m not faulting Mr. Caplan’s performance as the Wanderer because it is a daring and determined one of passion and spirit.  For me, I really liked watching the chemistry develop between Mr. Oore and Ms. Coady as it was very natural and believable. I saw two very real humans up on the Mainstage and I would have liked to see their story develop a bit further.

The musical numbers are quite entertaining while highlighting the feelings, thoughts and emotions of those who came to this country in search of a better life. The band was in top form, but what also bothered me was the fact that the band at times overpowered Mr. Caplan and I couldn’t hear the lyrics to the songs periodically. So much information is shared through song, and when I couldn’t hear it, I felt as if I had missed something very important.

Final Comments: ‘Old Stock’ is a powerfully emotional story which cut right to my heart. Immigrants to Canada at the turn of the twentieth century endured many hardships when they came to this country in search of a better life. We are also seeing on the news today the hardships, horrors and struggles of the immigrants who have come to live in Canada today to escape their war-torn homes and start again.

‘Old Stock: a refugee love story’ continues to May 26 in the Mainspace at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Avenue, Toronto. For tickets please call the Box Office at (416) 531-1827 or visit www.tarragontheatre.com for further information.

Running Time:  80 minutes with no intermission.

The Cast: Ben Caplan, Dani Oore, Mary Fay Coady, Graham Scott, Jamie Kronick.

Director: Christian Barry; Set and Lighting: Louisa Adamson and Christian Barry; Costumes: Carly Beamish; Sound: Jordan Palmer, Graham Scott, Christian Barry and Ben Caplan; Stage and Production Manager: Louisa Adamson.

Photo of Jamie Kronick, Mary Fay Coady, Ben Caplan, Chris Weatherstone, Graham Scott by Jamie Kronick.