Reviewed By Eugene Paul
the wide embrace of Theater, the chronicle play has held its coveted, premier
position for centuries, despite sudden flashes of brilliance by other modes
that grab the main light. Producer Andrew M. Horn and director Joe Brancato, in
their prime, start their thirty-ninth season longer in the tooth, wiser in the
head, with a particularly sagacious choice, The Immigrant, warm,
humorous, touching, an early Penguin Theatre success from thirty years ago they
see as more significant than ever.† Theyíre right.
Phillips & Jasin Liebman†††††††††††††††††††† photos by Dorice A. Madronero
is the story of Haskell Garelik, young Russian Jew fleeing Czarist Russia in
1909, shrewdly entering the United States, not through the teeming crush of
Ellis Island but 1500 miles away, through spare, open Galveston, Texas.
He is alone.† Knowing no one. Speaking no English. Oh, yes, ďBananas! One
Penny!Ē He has invested his last coin for a squeaking wheelbarrow and a clutch
of dockside bananas also newly arrived. He has to earn his way.† No roof.† No
bed. A half empty canteen of water.† The long, rough, open road leads to where
he cannot take another step. Itís as far as he can go:† Hamilton, Texas, population
1206.† No Jews.
if it hadnít been for the warmth, kindness, but definitely the curiosity of
sweet Ima Perry (simply charming Tina Johnson) who knows what would have
happened to him.† Motherly Mrs. Perry sees a needy young man (remarkable Jason
Liebman), filthy, hungry, thirsty, canít speak proper American† at all, and
does what she has to do, which includes wheedling her husband, Milton, bit of a
stiff necked, stuffy, worry wart local banker (splendid Bill Phillips) into
allowing young Haskell stranger† to use a corner of their barn for shelter.†
For a price, of course. Itís the only way Milton would agree.† So Ima buys all
Haskellís bananas. Suddenly, he† can pay rent.† The bargaining scene between
Haskell speaking Yiddish and Milton speaking reluctant Texan (thereís a heart
of gold under that gruff and proper exterior) is one of the early highlights of
the play.† Milton doesnít know quite how it comes about that he takes young
Haskell under his bankerís wing. A Jew?† Whatís that? Just a curiosity in this
part of the world. Ima and Milton Perry like this† endearingly brave young man.
Miller &† Jason Liebman
Haskell reciprocates their warmth, works harder, learns English.† Itís not
enough.† He prays, alone; but† itís not enough, to try to pray alone. He can
work harder if he looks more American. And thatís not enough.† He needs his
wife with him. As soon as he can, he sends for her, young Leah (tenderly
charming Melissa Miller).† Who is so wretched in this dusty, little, bleak Texas
town she wants to go back to the misery she knows in bleak, oppressive Russia.
It takes the patient kindness of the Perrys and the arrival of babies, year
after year with Milton and Ima firmly standing by these new Americans† right
here, in Hamilton, Texas. Pop.: 1212. Six Jews.
as Haskell grows in confidence and security, he chafes under the constant
guidance of Milton, whose paternal hand feels heavier and heavier until the
break erupts at what was supposed to be a† sentimental Seder† in Haskell and
Leahís home with Ima and Milton as happy, honored guests.† ďI am not a case, I
am a man!Ē, Haskell proclaims. As, of course, they all know.† The split with
Milton, however, is devastating.
Mark Garelikís warm, deeply touching story of his grandfatherís life in America
has been mounted with the rich care it deserves under director Brancatoís
empathic, sensitive guidance, its relevance to our lives today, clearly,
delicately drawn. He is ably abetted by costume designer Patricia Doherty
chronicling the years as they go by.† Brian Pratherís setting frames the key
closeness of the Perry and Garelik families. Yes, thereís an emotional
reconciliation. Thatís what a good, chronicle play can do.† You have laughed,
youíve smiled, you have shed a tear, youíve been taken on a journey. In skilled
hands, a barn theatre can not only reflect on the world, it† be the world.
At the Penguin Rep Theatre, 7 Crickettown Road, Stony Point, NY 10980. Free
parking. Air conditioned. Wheel chair accessible. Tickets: $43. 2 hrs. Thru