Review: OLD STOCK: A refugee love story.

by Lynn on May 4, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.


Created by Hannah Moscovitch, Ben Caplan and Christian Barry

Written by Hannah Moscovitch

Directed by Christian Barry

Songs by Ben Caplan and Christian Barry

Set and lighting by Louise Adamson and Christian Barry

Costumes by Carly Beamish

Sound by Jordan Palmer, Graham Scott, Christian Barry and Ben Caplan

Cast: Ben Caplan

Mary Fay Coady

Jamie Kronick

Dani Oore

Graham Scott

A loving look at how Hannah Moscovitch’s great-grandparents met and married done with the poetic style of Ms Moscovitch and with appropriate impish irreverence provided by Ben Caplan.

 The Story. Old Stock: a refugee love story is by Hannah Moscovitch who writes about her great-grandparents, their struggles to come to Canada and how they fell in love, sort of.

Playwright Hannah Moscovitch is talking about her great-grandparents, Chaim and Chaya. The story begins in 1908. Chaim and Chaya met on the boat coming over from Europe. He was smitten immediately. She was stand-offish.

Chaim’s family were all killed in a pogrom in Rumania, he found some of their bodies. The image was ingrained in his memory. Chaya came to Canada together with her whole family. Her first husband died in Russia while trying to leave there. She adored him. He thrilled her.

Chaim and Chaya then coincidentally met again in Montreal where they were living. He expressed his affection for her. She was non-committal but since her father liked him she married him.  It was a prickly marriage. He was shy and awkward and didn’t know how to please her. He had to live in the shadow of Chaya’s first husband. How could he thrill her like her first husband?  She was impatient with his awkward attempts at intimacy. She was a bit sarcastic, but she showed Chaim how to love her. I think she grew to love him.

Children and many grandchildren followed. Their first born son, Sam, was named after Chaim’s youngest brother who was murdered in the pogrom. The most recent to be born was Elijah, the great-great grandson of Chaim and Chaya, and the son of playwright Hannah Moscovitch and husband Christian Barry. I find that symmetry rather touching.

The Production. This wild-ride of a production is a bit different than most shows one sees. It’s presented with music provided by a klezmer band complete with clarinet, violin, keyboards and drums. The set and lighting of Louisa Adamson and Christian Barry is clever and atmospheric. A corrugated metal wall opens up to reveal other walls of what looks like the various dwellings of Chaim and Chaya.  The klezmer band is also inside the ‘container’ with the set. Dani Oore stage right sits in a chair and plays the clarinet. Sitting across from him stage left is Mary Fay Coady playing the violin. Up from them are Graham Scott on keyboard and accordion and Jamie Kronick on drums. The lighting is moody.

Chaim is played by Dani Oore. There is something almost sweet about Chaim’s awkwardness because of the way Dani Oore plays him.

Chaya is played beautifully by Mary Fay Coady. As Chaya she has that wonderful slow voice that says things almost with a shrug implied.  She is so economical with her body language that says so much it’s wonderful to see. She punctuates a sentence with a bit of a shrug as her hand delicately undulates in the air. Magic.

There is another character, The Wanderer played by wild-man Ben Caplan with unruly long hair, full wild beard, with electrifying energy, impishness and originality.  I think he represents the wandering Jew; the trickster who twists up well-meaning people with trouble to see how they cope with it; the unwanted guest with the big personality-you can’t take your eyes off him; and he’s the narrator. He’s all these things. He’s annoying, intrusive and comments on the comings and goings. You endure him. He has important things to say and impart. He has a wicked sense of humour and cynicism that gets him and his fellow wanderers through. And he sings in a gravelly, smooth, mellow, crystalline, raucous voice. Stunning to listen to him.

Ben Caplan and Christian Barry wrote most of the songs. The songs create the atmosphere of what Chaim and Chaya are going through; bad luck, a mean world, and truths. The lyrics are raw, lyrical and perceptive. At one point when the refugees arrive in Canada at Halifax, the refugees experience a full body search in security.  The lyrics go something like this: “You have to endure a little humiliation before you can join our nation.” Woow.

I think the play is personal, poignant, moving, sensitively written and beautifully poetic in its economy. The production is directed by Christian Barry who is also married to Hannah Moscovitch. It’s beautifully subtle in the scene with Chaim and Chaya as he tries to ‘woo’ her when she tells him she wants a baby. She guides him in what to do, (undoing buttons comes in handy). As beautifully subtle as those scenes are they are also wildly energetic when Ben Caplan engages with the audience.

I do have a concern that everybody is microphoned. I have to wonder why? It’s a small theatre. Why is the band microphoned? The cast is also microphoned:  to be heard over the Klezmer band? Then cut out the microphoning for the band too. Most of the time one can hear Caplan clearly. He’s like an explosion of clear sound and a mournful voice.

But there is a scene with a megaphone bellowing racist slurs, to simulate what was going on in Europe and the world then. I could not make out what he was saying because the music drowned him out.

Comment. Still, I loved Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story; the tenacity, resilience and humour of Moscovitch’s great-grandparents and all her ancestors.

Tarragon Theatre Presents:

Began: April 16, 2019.

Closes: May 26, 2019.

Running Time:  90 minutes.

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1 Harold Povilaitis May 5, 2019 at 12:20 pm

Lynn, I certainly DO share your concern “that everybody is microphoned” in this production.

While miking MAY be necessary in Toronto’s larger commercial theatres, this unfortunate trend is now starting to creep into Toronto’s smaller theatres (like Tarragon) as well … to the serious detriment of audience understanding of song lyrics, and EVEN text.

A message to directors and sound designers … PLEASE reconsider miking of actors, and ESPECIALLY musicians, in productions which are NOT mega-musicals !!! This type of OVER-miking can and OFTEN DOES diminish audience appreciation and understanding of the hard work and art of playwrights and lyricists !!!