Posts Tagged ‘the immigrant’

The Immigrant
by Mark Harelik
Conceived by Mark Harelik and Randal Myler
Directed by Rebekah Scallet
New Jewish Theatre
October 12, 2023

Mindy Shaw, Dustin Lane Petrillo
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
New Jewish Theatre

The latest production from New Jewish Theatre is one they’ve done before, twice. I hadn’t seen either of their previous productions of The Immigrant, but seeing the third version makes a strong enough impression that it’s easy to see why this would be revived more than once. It’s a highly personal show, with memorable characters and an especially strong cast.

Written by playwright and actor Mark Harelik and based on the true story of his Russian Jewish immigrant grandfather, Haskell Harelik (Dustin Lane Petrillo), the story is compelling and, for the most part, well-constructed. It follows Haskell from shortly after arriving in the small town of Hamilton, TX, where he barely makes a living pushing a cart around in the summer heat and selling bananas for a penny each. His work leads him to the doorstep of local couple Milton (David Wassilak) and Ima Perry (Mindy Shaw), who are suspicious of the young man at first, but soon befriend him, letting him rent a room in their house, as Haskell continues to work hard, getting business assistance and advice from banker Milton, and writing letters home to his wife, Leah (Bryn McLaughlin), who eventually joins him in Texas, where she experiences the culture shock more acutely than her husband. Over the years, as Haskell’s business grows, the two couples form a close friendship despite their cultural and religious differences, although there are certainly some obstacles that come up in the relationship between Haskell and Milton, especially later in the play as World War II happens. It’s a compelling portrait of determination, friendship, family, and persistence through hardship, although it does seem to peter out somewhat at the end, leaving a few loose ends and stopping the dramatic action by changing the structure of the play with a late-arriving narrator. 

The cast is small, but stellar, making the most of the drama and making the relationships especially believable. As Haskell, Petrillo is engaging and determined, doing an excellent job of portraying his growth from struggling new arrival to established businessman and family man. The developing friendship between Haskell and the Perrys is also made especially poignant through the impressive performances of Shaw and Wassilak. McLaughlin is also strong as Leah, who has excellent chemistry with Petrillo and has some particularly memorable scenes with Shaw, as well.

The production values are strong, as well, with an effective set by Rob Lippert, and well-crafted costumes by Michele Friedman Siler. There’s also striking lighting by Michael Sullivan, excellent sound design and projections by Kareem Deanes, and good use of evocative music as the story unfolds. 

Overall, The Immigrant is a show that strikes many emotional chords, with a story that’s historical, but surprisingly timely as well. What’s especially impressive here, though, is the cast, along with the well-paced staging that holds interest from the first moment.  I’m glad NJT brought it back, so that I could have the opportunity to see it. 

Bryn McLaughlin, Dustin Lane Petrillo
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
New Jewish Theatre

The New Jewish Theatre is presenting The Immigrant at the J’s Wool Studio Theatre until October 29

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