Old Stock: An Immigrant Love Story is a story that comes to life within a shipping container. As the doors of the container are flung open, we meet our storyteller, Ben Caplan, also known as The Wanderer.
The contents of the container and the warmth of the light within, create a feeling of cosiness. The Russian samovar, the suitcases, the long crochet scarf, all set the scene for storytelling. And yet, this container, that generates so much warmth, is also unsettling as it symbolises a displacement of people, people without a homeland.
The Wanderer is a charismatic persona. He is a walking paradox. His thick, long beard and conservative brown suit, with a neatly tucked pocket watch, are that of a wise religious scholar and yet he is wild and unruly. He wears a bright purple jacket and top hat; his eyes are bulging and glittering. His voice is raspy and also gentle; he is a dreamer and a poet. He dances. The audience is transfixed from the very start. Who is this curious storyteller?
The show starts with music, happy klezmer music. There are sounds of the violin; accordion; keyboard; woodwind instruments and drums. They all come together with The Wanderer. There is joy in the room! The audience joins in; we all clap to this addictive, Jewish song. Should we be rejoicing?
Soon we meet Chaim and Chaya — two Jews who flee from the pogroms in Eastern Europe. The story follows these two individuals. They meet on a boat. They are on their way to Canada. It is 1908. They share their experiences of grief, loss and trauma. We learn that Chaim's family are butchered in a pogrom. They are murdered in their family home, in Romania. Chaya flees Romania with her immediate family. However, she loses her adoring husband and child and is grieving this loss. The joy we were made to feel by the actors disappears in an instant. The room is silent. And yet, in a typically Jewish way, even tragic events are delivered through the use of humour. So, we laugh through our tears.
The story unfolds, Chaim falls in love with Chaya. Reluctantly, Chaya marries him. They yearn freedom and safety and they patiently hang on to each other. They start a family and are rich with four children of their own. They learn to love each other. They make their new home in Canada and give their children an opportunity to prosper.
Through Chaim and Chaya, we see the struggle of all people displaced. We see the human face of hope. We hear but one story of the million refugee stories that could be told.
Klezmer music is infused in the storyline. It is both the music of mourning and celebration – as is the story of Chaim and Chaya.
The original klezmer songs are co-written by Ben Caplan and the show's director, Christian Barry. The words and tunes are emotive. The music is infectious and the audience often participates by clapping along.
The music is masterfully performed by a tight group of musicians. They clearly feel the music and consequently, so do the audience.
Graham Scott plays the keyboard and accordion; Jamie Kronick plays drums. Dani Oore has a dual role as a musician on the woodwind instruments as well as the role of Chaim. Dani conjures an image of a young, meek man, shattered by his past and yet with a hint of a sparkle in his eyes. Mary Fay Coady plays the violin in this four-piece band. She depicts the vacuous 24-year-old widow, Chaya.
Old Stock: An Immigrant Love Story is based on a true story. Playwright Hannah Moscovitch tells the story of her family's history. She is the great-granddaughter of Chaya and Chaim.
As the shipping container opens, so it also closes at the end of the play. Much like a book. The lives, the stories, the music go back in the box and just the memories linger.
This is a brilliant piece of theatre not to be missed.