BWW Review: OLD STOCK: A REFUGEE LOVE STORY at Segal Centre
There's a tremendous amount of talent on the Segal Centre stage right now.
The little Canadian show that could, Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story, earned rave reviews in its off-Broadway run last spring and now it's come to Montreal through a collaboration between the Segal Centre for the Performing Arts and the Montreal St-Ambroise Fringe Festival.
And it's about time, too, considering that the show about Jewish refugees fleeing Romania in 1908 is set in Montreal. Written by Toronto-based playwright Hannah Moscovitch, Old Stock tells the story of her paternal great-grandparents Chaya and Chaim Moscovitch's journey to Canada.
It's a brilliant, moving piece of theatre about immigration, anti-semitism and the persistence of love, but the show is inevitably stolen by its supercharged lead, Ben Caplan.
Caplan, who's perhaps better known as an east coast indie folk musician, is an absolute live wire onstage, from the moment he opens his mouth to his final bow. The man's presence and the power of his voice bring an incredible depth to the production, along with some side-splitting comedic moments.
Caplan co-wrote the largely klezmer-inspired music for the show, and later released it as an album, with director Christian Barry of 2b theatre company in Halifax. Barry, who also happens to be married to Moscovitch, brings out the absolute best in a trio of actors who portray this true story with remarkable tenderness and charm.
As if actors Dani Oore and Mary Fay Coady (who play Chaim and Chaya, respectively) aren't good enough, they deliver their wonderful performances while playing in the band. This you might expect from a musician like Caplan, who also accompanies himself on the guitar and banjo, but to see Oore and Coady pivot from dramatic vignette to violin and woodwind is quite impressive.
The scenery is ingenious for a touring show, taking place entirely in a large red shipping container from which the action emerges and recedes in 80 minutes (no intermission). It's clear that designers Louisa Adamson and Barry wanted to include a strong travel motif, incorporating suitcases and luggage at every opportunity.
The costumes are beautifully simple for Chaya and Chaim, while Caplan's "period clothing" contains a twist of the zany and whimsical.
On the whole, the play is bawdy and charming, and poignant and heartbreaking. It's intended not just as a piece of history revived from a distant past for the audience to point and stare at, but as a commentary about the contemporary status of "outsiders" in Canada, and beyond.
It's enormously successful in its mission to sensitize and evoke, with Caplan shining bright in his role as ringmaster and audience charmer.
The run has already been extended by the Segal Centre until Dec. 19.