The ImmigrantTheater — By Ross Kolde and Aimee Musser on January 21, 2017 at 8:20 am
By Ross Kolde and Aimee Musser
When we saw the Immigrant, it was merely a read through. Whereas the stage direction is lacking, along with lighting, blocking, and prop and costume use, an audience member can focus better on a couple elements. The first highlighted element is the actors themselves, and their methods. The second highlight is the script itself; how it’s written. As writers, witnessing a reading makes it easier to analyze the storytelling itself. This reading was part of The Sierra Madre Playhouse’s “Off The Page” series, a, once a month, program reinstating in January 2017.
The story is a nostalgic piece, recalling a different time. It takes place after WWI and spans several decades following, although the bulk of the story seems to take place immediately before and during the Great Depression. It was cute and quaint in its way, and is certainly an adroit play for the holiday’s. The main character is a Russian Jewish immigrant, and the actor who portrays him owns the character well; amusing in his nuances and plays with the accent masterfully. The Immigrant, Haskell Harelik, enterprising to save money by selling bananas to the townspeople, shows up one day at the home of Milton and Ima Perry. They are a wealthy Texan couple, Christian, and typically American. They end up taking Harelik in. The play is about the evolution of their dynamic, often parental, over many ensuing years. Overcoming religious, social and emotional differences, the unlikely friendship develops. As we watch the joys and struggles of such an undertaking, we are reminded of the importance of acceptance and the unexpected fortunes of kindness.
The piece is a dramatic comedy, to be sure. Luckily, unlike an SNL sketch, the humor isn’t solely reliant on a silly accent. Most of the humor manifests in the little misunderstandings between the main character and his hosts… some of these misunderstandings manufactured, others totally cultural or language based. The main character is bit sneaky in the beginning, but certainly not malicious. He merely wants to make his way in America, worried about living conditions in Russia during a time of political shifting. It’s a simple comedic set-up that tends to work, based on the rule of inflexibility.
Of course, nostalgia often dulls the bad parts of past era’s. So when the topic of anti-Semitism is dealt with in the context of an endearing play, it is surely a difficult process. One doesn’t want to make the audience uncomfortable, but they also don’t want to patronize an entire people. We happen to feel like they hit that narrow mark adeptly, but sensibilities vary.
We believe that this play would make for a good family experience that will particularly appeal to an older generation, as that a great deal of the plays charm is in its depiction of a “simpler” time. The message, however, does ring true into today’s political climate, making “The Immigrant” relevant to the younger generation as well.
We happen to think that art of this kind is important. It is a snapshot of a lifetime- fictional, no doubt, but quite probably akin to very many real stories. As generations die, what they don’t imbue in the descendants or commit to paper or photo, is lost. History shouldn’t be trusted to textbooks printed by corporations and subject to revision and omission. Even with fiction, we at least get to develop a hazy picture of what society was like before we were born. This play might have been a little soft, and certainly wasn’t challenging in its depth, but not everyone wants to be assaulted intellectually by their entertainment. We happen to like both, for the record.