Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story makes an old story urgent and contemporary

OLD STOCK: A REFUGEE LOVE STORY (2b theatre/Tarragon, 30 Bridgman). Runs to May 26. $22-$70. 416-531-1827. See listing. Rating: NNNNAfter.


OLD STOCK: A REFUGEE LOVE STORY (2b theatre/Tarragon, 30 Bridgman). Runs to May 26. $22-$70. 416-531-1827. See listing. Rating: NNNN

After touring around the world to raves, Hannah Moscovitch, Ben Caplan and Christian Barrys musical inspired by Moscovitchs paternal great-grandparents has finally docked in Toronto. It was worth the wait.

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story is a remarkable work that takes a personal story and, through its sharp presentation, reflects on the current climate of intolerance.

The title refers to former PM Stephen Harpers controversial old-stock Canadians comment in 2015 that hinted at an us vs. them attitude about refugees and immigrants that has since worsened both here and globally.

As this show suggests, refugee stories have been happening for generations.

Its 1908, and Chaim (Dani Oore) and Chaya (Mary Fay Coady) meet in an immigrant holding area in Halifax. Theyve both fled from Romania, but their situations are different. The widowed Chaya (whose deadpan cadences Coady has perfected) has arrived with lots of family, but shes hoping to return so she can regularly visit her husbands grave. Chaims family has been decimated by pogroms he has no one. Eventually, they meet up again in Montreal and marry (he joyfully, she reluctantly), trying to find good work and raise a family while encountering anti-Semitism.

Their simple but heartfelt story is told in vignettes. The works master stroke is the narrator, called the Wanderer and played by Caplan himself with a gritty, booming voice: think the love child of Tevye and Tom Waits, playing the emcee from Cabaret.

From his first appearance above a shipping container (note the visual allusion to more recent refugees in this detail, designed by Barry and Louisa Adamson), which opens up to become a sort of travelling klezmer band, Caplan sings, tells jokes and plays secondary characters in the couples life.

Sometimes his shtick can get repetitive and corny do we really need a laundry list of euphemisms for sex? But on the other hand, thats why its shtick, and Caplan is exuberantly, charismatically over the top. Hes also capable of quieter moments, such as when he addresses the audience and asks us what wed do if someone knocked on our door in the middle of the night. Would we, he suggests, be fearful or empathetic?

The lively band (Graham Scott, Jamie Kronick and Oore and Coady) zestfully bring the Old World harmonies to life.

But its the story at the centre of the show that of Moscovitchs ancestors that gives this work its heart.

Not to be missed.

@glennsumi

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