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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
There are many immigrant plays but Harelik's is unique on two counts. First, it's the story of the only Jewish immigrant to tiny Hamilton, Texas, (Harelik's grandfather Haskell Harelik). Second, it focuses on just two couples, Haskell (Christopher Guilmet) and his wife Leah (Monica Louwerens) and the banker Milton (Joe J. Garcia) and his wife Ima (Cynthia Marty), a devout Christian. Those versed in the autobiographical Texas plays of Horton Foote or the many devastating accounts of the tragic experiences of African-Americans will find a fresh point of view in this American immigrant story.
When Haskell first appears at Milton's door peddling bananas for a penny apiece, he speaks no English. With some help from Milton in buying a horse and wagon, he works his way up to ownership of a store and becomes the father of three sons who all fought in World War II. It's not a painless road, encountering ruffians who attack him on his early horse-and-buggy route and, towards the end, involving a fight with Milton who advocates isolationism during World War II. Haskell fiercely feels the desire to give something back to his people who are still in Russia.
Act I begins in 1909 and takes us up to the arrival of Haskell's wife Leah whose passionate solo "I Don't Want It" explores her misery about being culturally alone in this strange place. In Act II she and Ima compare their cultural rituals in the amusing "Padadooly" Despite the couples' close friendship which is fractured by the mens' quarrel during World War II, Ima's final solo "Take The Comforting Hand of Jesus", sung in front of Leah after Milton's death, brings a curious expression of hurt and disbelief to Leah's face. Ironically in the song, Ima mourns Milton's disbelief and her belief that therefore she will never meet him in heaven. Few musicals take on religious issues and rituals in such depth and Harelik does it with subtlety and without condescension.
The excellent cast is headed by Christopher Guilmet as Haskell, who exhibits a touching frailty in the beginning and ages nicely to a hard-faced businessman at the end, becoming not likeable but a survivor. Joe J. Garcia brings humor and humanity to Milton. Monica Louwerens sings Leah with a fierce poignancy, Though young for the role of Ima, Cynthia Marty holds her own musically.
John Iacovelli has designed a split set that supports the play's many scene changes using natural wood and a backdrop depicting the barren Texas landscape. It's augmented by Don Guy's tawny lighting design and A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's costumes which are particularly interesting as they express Leah's changes down the years from peasant girl in a shawl to power matron in silk afternoon dresses.
Alper and Knapp's music hauntingly utilizes the Klezmer and ethnic themes to project Haskell's roots. Director Hope Alexander has a knack for finding the emotional truth in the characters, emphasizing the dramatic values in this chamber musical which is more a play with music
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide