I did not want to go out on Wednesday evening; during the day I’d received some not so good news and the idea of trekking to Tarragon to see a play wasn’t particularly appealing. I’m so glad that I went. Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story turned my crappy day into a truly special evening.
It’s a wonderful piece, a hybrid play/concert. Anything by playwright Hannah Moscovitch is pretty much guaranteed to be terrific. Add songs by Ben Caplan and Christian Barry, and you have something remarkable. Director Christian Barry gives us a show that’s tightly paced and emotionally engaging.
There’s a lot of laughter in the first part of the show. Not so much in the middle. Megan and I were definitely not the only people crying, we were joined by men and women all around us. Bring tissues. It lightens up again near the end.
The play is the story of the immigrant experience of Moscovitch’s great-grandparents, Chaim (Dani Oore) and Chaya (Mary Fay Coady), who emigrated from Romania, met in Halifax, and married and raised a family in Montreal.
It’s told in a series of vignettes. Oore and Coady are both terrific. The awkwardness when they first meet is palpable. They both make the characters real, Oore with Chaim’s cluelessness and love and Coady with Chayla’s anger and finally her understanding. Both of them are also talented musicians; Coady plays the violin and Oore plays woodwinds and brass.
Ben Caplan is The Wanderer. I thought of him as the narrator, Megan said she thought he was more like an MC. Whichever, he has a fabulous voice, and he’s a terrific songwriter and actor. And his energy is astounding.
The song lyrics ground the show in the present. There’s a ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ message about immigration that uses references to Harper’s campaign ideas of ensuring there are no ‘barbaric cultural practices’ using a snitch line and that immigrants have ‘Canadian Values’ through one on one interviews with immigration officials.
I really liked Louisa Adamson and Christian Barry’s set and lighting. The set had old suitcases and a samovar and other old things that made it look a bit cluttered but not crowded. The band was at the back. The lighting was pretty low. Sometimes it looked as if it was lit by candles. Lovely. It was also used very effectively to highlight specific pieces and action. For instance, Caplan stayed in front of the bulk of set and often during his pieces the set itself was kept dark while he was lit, keeping our entire focus on him. The whole design was very evocative.
The wonderful band is Graham Scott on keyboard and accordion, Jamie Kronick on drumset, Dani Oore on woodwinds and brass, and Mary Fay Coady on violin. It sounded like more than four people.
There are people for whom theatre means big Broadway shows. There’s nothing wrong with that, but they probably aren’t reading this review. If you have a friend like that, buy them a ticket and bring them to see Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story. This is Canadian theatre. It’s wonderful. An interesting storyline, great songs, terrific writing, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll think about it after you leave the theatre. It was an off-Broadway hit, it’s won awards. It’s nothing to be wary of. We loved it. The audience loved it. You’ll probably love it. I bet even your friend will love it.
- Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story is playing until May 26, 2019, at Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Ave)
- Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00pm, Wednesday at 1:30pm, and Sunday at 2:30pm
- Tickets are $60 with special pricing for Seniors, Arts Workers, and Students. Rush tickets are $20, available at the door 2 hours before show start on the day of the performance, subject to availablity. Patrons under 35 & arts workers visit www.tarragontheatre.com/tarragon22
- Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-531-1827, and in person at the box office
Photo of Ben Caplan by Stoo Metz Photography