I attended THE IMMIGRANT, currently performing at the Sierra Madre Playhouse (SMP), just hours after seeing ICE, the play now at 24th Street Theatre. It wasn’t a calculated move, but the pairing was perfect, as both plays deal with the basic reason that has motivated people to come to America over the years – a desire for a better future. ICE talks about the environment that faces Latino immigrants today (you can read my thoughts on ICE here), while THE IMMIGRANT tells the story of a young Russian-Jewish man who arrived in Hamilton, Texas, back in 1909. THE IMMIGRANT is based on the real life experiences of Haskell Harelik, as written by his grandson, Mark Harelik.
Seeing the plays back to back left one thing clear in my mind – America is a quilt of cultures that has grown ever more colorful with the passing of the years, and one that wouldn’t exist without all the “immigrant” pieces that compose it. Simon Levy, the director of THE IMMIGRANT at SMP, said it best: “I hope you will reflect upon your own family tree… because somewhere on one of those branches, unless you’re full-blooded Native American, is an immigrant.”
Adam Lebowitz-Lockard plays Haskell Harelik beautifully, speaking Yiddish and “learning” English right before your eyes. He is a young man who comes to this country looking for a brighter future for him and his wife, and who, after 30 years, manages to achieve the American dream. His wife Leah is wonderfully played by Sigi Gradwohl, an Israeli-Swiss-American actress who herself arrived to the U.S. when she was five years old. Stuart W. Howard and Kaye Kittrell play Milton and Ima, the couple that takes Haskell in, even though they can barely understand him and know him only from his banana cart business. This foursome delivers the story with humor and depth, allowing THE IMMIGRANT to resonate for everyone in the audience.
The staging for the play is simple – the front of a home that one would expect to see in Hamilton, TX, in the early 1900s. A lot is added to it by the projections designed by Matthew G. Hill. They help the audience’s imagination “walk” from one room of the house to the next, and later to see actual pictures of the family that lived this story.
THE IMMIGRANT was written in 1985 and yet is strikingly relevant today. As an added benefit, you will learn a thing or two about Shabbat and the Jewish faith. Definitely go see it.
THE IMMIGRANT will play Friday to Sunday through May 26, 2018. Tickets are $40 general; $36 seniors; $25 youth (22 years old and under). They can be purchased at SierraMadrePlayhouse.org or by calling (626) 355-4318. SMP is located at 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., in Sierra Madre 91024.