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Interview: Benjamin Pelteson in THE IMMIGRANT at George Street Playhouse

Interview: Benjamin Pelteson in THE IMMIGRANT at George Street Playhouse

The Immigrant, a heartwarming story inspired by the real experiences of a Russian-Jewish emigrant to the United States, will be performed at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick from March 12 through April 7.

Written by Mark Harelik, The Immigrant, based on the life of his Russian-Jewish grandfather, tells the story Haskell Harelik, who arrives at the port of Galveston, Texas in 1909 seeking refuge from his homeland. With only his banana cart in tow, Haskell finds compassion and friendship from an unlikely couple, falls in love, and creates a life for his family in pursuit of the American dream.

The show is taking the stage under the direction of George Street Playhouse's Director of Education Jim Jack. the show will star Benjamin Pelteson as Haskell. The cast also includes Gretchen Hall, Lauriel Friedman, and R. Ward Duffy. had the pleasure of interviewing Benjamin Palteson about his career and The Immigrant.

Benjamin Pelteson's theatre credits include Photograph 51 (EST), The Mines of Sulphur (City Opera), Wikipedia Plays (Ars Nova), King Lear, Cymbeline, Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window (Oregon Shakespeare), Disgraced (Denver Center), Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare Theatre), Peter and the Starcatcher, Dracula, Christmas Carol (Actors Theatre of Louisville), Murder of Isaac (Baltimore Centerstage), Angels in America (Wilma Theater), Lady Windermere's Fan (Williamstown), Hamlet (Capital Rep) others. TV credits include Homeland, The Americans, The Blacklist, Unforgettable, Law & Order, StartUp, and Silly Little Game. Barrymore Nominee for Outstanding Supporting Actor Louis in Angels in America. UPCOMING: Indecent (Oregon Shakespeare). Benjamin holds a BFA from Carnegie Mellon.

Who was the very first person to recognize your talent for acting?

When I was four or five, I remember doing an impression of Robin Leach from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous that made my parents laugh. Shortly afterward, I was enrolled in a summer drama camp for wayward and mouthy children.

Tell us a little about your education at Carnegie Mellon's prestigious theatre program.

I learned a lot at CMU. I learned it's possible to cram an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem in my head while simultaneously hanging a par can. And I learned that no one looks good in a black unitard.

In all seriousness, I loved my time there. Our teachers were wonderful and my classmates-a ragtag bunch of bad news bears-remain some of my favorite people on earth.

What are some of the challenges of your role as Haskell in The Immigrant?

During the first 1/4 of The Immigrant, Haskell speaks only Yiddish. (I don't speak Yiddish, so I had to learn that phonetically thanks to a terrific coach, Motl Didner.) As Haskell begins to learn English, there's an accent that starts off quite heavy and modulates over time. So that's all technically pretty tricky.

How is your role as Haskell different from other roles you have played?

Haskell is more resourceful, more optimistic, and sunnier than a lot of other people I've played. He's a survivor of trauma-a guy who always looks ahead.

How do you like working at GSP?

George Street has been lovely to us. The cast is two couples-my wife Leah (played by Lauriel Friedman) and I and a Texan couple (played by R. Ward Duffy and Gretchen Hall.) Our director is Jim Jack, GSP's Director of Education, and I cannot say enough nice things about all of them or about the theater.

What would you like audiences to know about the show?

It's funny. It's poignant. It's relevant. And it's worth your time.

Why do you think that The Immigrant is a significant show for our times?

In 1909, the year in which The Immigrant is set, America absorbed over 1/2 million Jewish refugees who were fleeing political violence. These refugees were thought to be dangerous, radical criminals. Over the next 30 years, America sharply reduced the number of Jews it allowed into the country, and millions died as a result.

110 years later, we are shutting the doors on asylum seeking refugees on our southern border.

The Immigrant is the story of a flourishing that happened during a window of time when the United States wasn't making the kind of dim, exclusionary choice it is making today.

Can you share with us any of your plans for the future?

I'm going back to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to do INDECENT after this, and am looking forward to seeing many old friends out west!

You can visit Benjamin Pelteson's web site at :

To find tickets or for more information, visit the George Street Playhouse website at, or call the box office at 732-246-7717.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Benjamin Pelteson

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