Dallas' Theatre Three offers an absorbing narrative in THE IMMIGRANT
by Christopher Soden
Haskell Harelik is a Jewish refugee from Russia who abandons his original plan to come to New York and gets off the boat in Hamilton, Texas. It is the early 1900’s and the town of Hamilton is not exactly a thriving metropolis. He manages to secure a cart from which he sells bananas, and soon crosses paths with Ima and Milton Perry. Haskell could do with some scrubbing and naturally, there’s a language barrier. His sleight command of English comes out in a heavy accent, and there’s struggling with gestures. Milton, unsure of Haskell’s intentions, tells Ima to get back in the house until (between the two of them) they ascertain he is peddling produce. Just like in the bible, they offer water from their well. A first step in their relationship. They can tell Haskell is till trying to get his bearings, and help him to get on his feet.
Written by Mark Harelik, The Immigrant examines the lot of those who seek asylum in a culture that’s not always welcoming of strangers. Unlike New York, Texas has no Jewish district, and when Haskell brings his wife Leah to join him, she fears they will forfeit devotion for the sake of assimilation. When Ima asks Haskell to deliver a pie to a neighboring town, he fears the cruel mischief of the thuggy Peterson brothers. When Ima insists and offers to accompany him, his terror is palpable and undeniable. While the travails of being Jewish in a Gentile town is undoubtedly an aspect of The Immigrant, in its way, it’s more subtle than Gentlemen’s Agreement or Hester Street. It's seeming simplicity is deceptive. When Milton and Ima take Haskell and Leah under their wing, the grace is immeasurable, but ultimately, it complicates things.
Under Artistic Director Jeffrey Schmidt's direction, Theatre Three has taken numerous precautions to stream Mark Harelik’s true story to audiences while observing the boundaries necessary to keep cast and crew safe. While backdrops (veranda, dining room, dry goods store) are projected on green screen, furniture, dishes and other actual props are used. I was leery of the experience, afraid the necessary artifice would be a distraction. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Between the intoxicating performances (Haskell: Ben Stegmair, Ima: Krista Scott, Milton: Adrian Churchill Leah: Jenna Caire) and the absorbing narrative, The Immigrant was a splendid piece of theatre, neither film nor telecast.
Theatre Three will be streaming the virtual production of The Immigrant from June 15th-June 28th, 2020. Get your streaming pass at Theatre Three Dallas.