“I think that’s something that both new and existing and old-stock Canadians can agree with,” said then-prime minister Stephen Harper during a federal election campaign leaders’ debate on September 17, 2015.
That reference, along with the more recent arrivals of thousands of Syrian refugees in Canada, led to the creation of “Old Stock: a refugee love story” by playwright Hannah Moscovitch, singer-songwriter Ben Caplan and theatre director Christian Barry.
“Old Stock” will be presented at the National Arts Centre in the Azrieli Studio, for four performances from July 13 to 15, as part of the Canada Scene Festival.
The play tells the story of Chaim and Chaya, inspired by Moscovitch’s great-grandparents, Jewish-Romanian refugees who met at Pier 21 in Halifax, a main entry point for immigrants to Canada early in the 20th century. The Canadian Museum of Immigration is now located at Pier 21 and a visit to the museum led Moscovitch to look into her family history.
Chaim and Chaya left their homes and families behind and fled to a strange place in hope of finding and a better future.
“Although it’s a very Jewish story [encompassing] exodus, love, despair and hope, even non-Jews will understand it,” said Moscovitch.
Caplan, who is the play’s narrator and wrote the music, said it is about “seeing the universal in the specific, and the specific in the universal.”
Caplan’s music – which is central to the play – combines traditional East European klezmer influences with contemporary styles, and there are moments when the audience joins in with hand clapping and foot stomping. Reviews from the Halifax run suggest Moscovitch’s writing holds many funny and joyous moments.
Audience responses, said Caplan and Moscovitch, have been warm and passionate.
“We get effusive feedback from Jewish communities saying that they’ve never seen such an honest display of the Jewish community portrayed on stage before,” said Caplan.
“Not so long ago, people who are now seen as ‘old stock’ Canadians, were children of immigrants, and the immigrants of 1908 were not so different from those of 2017,” he added.
Tickets are available at the NAC box office (across the street from the NAC at 54 Elgin Street) or by phone at 1-888-991-2787.