It begins in the year 1909 in a place off the beaten track in the small town of Hamilton, Texas population about 1200. Then and there a stranger arrives, a young man clearly from another country barely able to speak or understand any English, and he is pushing his cart filled with bananas for sale when he happens upon a banker and his wife at their lovely home in Hamilton. A friendship between them quickly evolves and the young man Haskell Harelik is offered much needed help including shelter by the banker Milton and his wife Ima. At first it is mostly a rather cute and somewhat funny story but as it evolves a wide array of issues arise, many of them centered on the all too common condition of xenophobia that is every bit as much alive today as it was in rural Texas in 1909. You see Haskell Harelik is an immigrant from Russia, a place from which he fled to escape the horrible conditions of his life there seeking freedom in the United States of America. His immigrant status is inescapably obvious due to his language difference but an even more difficult challenge soon becomes obvious because he is also a Jew now living in a town that is devoutly Christian.
Clearly, it is against all odds that Haskell Harelik begins to succeed in business with the courageous help of his banker friend Milton. But then something huge jumps in the way of Haskell’s rise to success and true freedom. He tells Milton that to grow more he needs a worker. Milton is absolutely against the idea pointing out that it is a very bad business decision but Haskell persists and finally reveals that he already has an assistant – his wife. Seems that by working hard and saving money Haskell Harelik was able to bring his wife from Russia to the United States of America so they could be together and prosper together in America. The problem is his wife Leah has her own brand of xenophobia and doesn’t much care for folks who wear cowboy hats, big belt buckles and pointy boots.
So where is this train heading? What good can possibly come out of this seemingly insurmountable collision of cultures and attitudes?
Watching this show brought back some vivid memories of my dear old grandma about 65 years ago now when one day I happened to walk with a girl from school to her home on my way to my house. As we approached the door of the girl’s home, her name was Rebecca by the way, I saw something unfamiliar to me on the door frame. I asked Rebecca what it was and she told me it was a Mezuzah. I never did fully understand but I thought it was exciting so I ran home and excitedly told my dear old grandma, born and raised in Germany, that I had walked Rebecca to her house and saw a Mezuzah. I thought granny was going to have a heart attack, “Oh my God, she is one of THOSE people.” Now please understand that overwhelmingly grandma was a very sweet lady who wouldn’t hurt a flea but clearly, I had struck a chord with her. She was not a fan of Jewish people almost certainly because of how and where she had been raised whether it made any sense or not.
And the beat goes on to this day. Fueled largely by fear a great many people react poorly to anyone who in any significant way is different from themselves. Taken to its extreme this condition can be severely brutal and has and will continue to take innocent lives. But back to the play. What would become of Haskell Harelik and his lovely but deeply distressed wife Leah? Could the friendship with Milton and Ima continue and if so how might their relationship transform?
“The Immigrant” is a powerful story with many fascinating revelations of the human condition and it is also a true story based on the real life of the playwright’s grandfather. Mark Harelik is a renowned author and actor and he brings a real sense of family to “The Immigrant” ultimately revealing what it can mean to be an American. The acting is five star across the board with well-deserved kudos to Sigi Gradwohl [Leah], Stuart W. Howard [Milton], Kaye Kittrell [Ima] and Adam Lebowitz-Lockard [Haskell Harelik].
Kaye Kittrell and Stuart W. Howard
“The Immigrant” runs now through May 26, 2018 at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Boulevard, Sierra Madre, California 91024. Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday’s at 2:30 p.m. Reservations may be made by calling 626-355- 4318 and online ticketing is available at the: sierramadreplayhouse website
Another great slice of entertainment is back in town for just two shows in May. Kate Huffman presents her award winning one person show “I’m Too Fat for This Show.” Where: ACME Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, 90036
When: May 23 rd &30 th 8pm
Ticket info: acmetheatres
And I also just completed a 12 day family excursion through Europe. It was a true BLAST and is reported in detail at the:ronirwin website.
Lots of photos and fun to read for FREE.
Photo credit: Gina Long
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