Saturday, October 19, 2019

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story

Ben Caplan in "Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story."

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story
Created by Hannah Moscovitch, Christian Barry and Ben Caplan
Playing at the Babs Asper Theatre – National Arts Centre (Ottawa) until October 27

As I mentioned in my review of Ben Caplan’s CD, Old Stock, “one of the most magnificent productions I’ve seen in recent years was “Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story,” a play co-created by playwright Hannah Moscovitch, who grew up in Ottawa, singer-songwriter Ben Caplan and director Christian Barry, which tells the story of Hannah’s great-grandparents who fled antisemitism in Romania in 1908 for Canada.

I first saw the play during its first NAC run in 2017 and saw it again last night on opening night. My opinion on the show is unchanged so much of this review is adapted – with minor changes – from a column I wrote for the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin after seeing the show then.

“Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story” is a musical theatre piece created by playwright Hannah Moscovitch, singer-songwriter Ben Caplan and director Christian Barry of the Halifax-based 2b theatre company.

As the show opens, we meet Ben as The Wanderer, the play’s narrator, a constant presence who sings the songs (most of which Caplan co-wrote with director Barry), tells stories, jokes with the audience, dances, and even puts on a tallit to perform a wedding. Caplan, bearded like an old world hasid, is larger than life on stage playing The Wanderer with seemingly wild abandon – like a cross between Tevye and Tom Waits. While Ben is definitely the star and always on stage, he also fades into the background when necessary.

“Old Stock” tells the story of Moscovitch’s great-grandparents, Chaim and Chaya, Jewish refugees fleeing antisemitic pogroms. Fresh off the boat in 1908, Chaim, 19, who had lost his family in a pogrom, and Chaya, already a widow at 24, meet briefly in a line to see the doctor at Pier 2 in Halifax (the forerunner to Pier 21), the entry point to Canada for immigrants and refugees from Europe at the time. Chaim was sent to the line because he had a rash and typhus had to be ruled out before he could be admitted into the country. Chaya was there because of a cough that, she insisted, was not tuberculosis.

The story picks up again in Montreal. Chaim, who was smitten with the cynical Chaya at first meeting, arranges a match with her through her father, and we see their hard life unfold in early-20th century Montreal. Although “Old Stock” is often very funny, it is a refugees’ story filled with great tragedy (and, ultimately, joy).

In addition to Ben, there are four other musicians on stage including clarinetist Eric Da Costa, violinist Mary Fay Coady, Kelsey McNulty on accordion and keyboard, and drummer Jeff Kingsbury. The songs and music – encompassing klezmer, folk, cabaret, rock, and even free jazz styles – are central to the play and are brilliantly performed by Ben, who adds his banjo, harmonica and guitar playing to several of the numbers, and the band.

As key musicians, Eric Da Costa and Mary Fay Coady sit with the band while playing music. But they also stand up and move to the centre of the set as the central characters of Chaim (Eric) and Chaya (Mary Fay). Their constant transitions from musicians to actors are seamless – thanks, no doubt, to Christian Barry’s direction.

Based on the lives of Hannah Moscovitch’s paternal great-grandparents, “Old Stock” is a specifically Jewish story that many of us can relate to. My own grandparents arrived in Canada from Eastern Europe in that same era. It is also a universal story will resonate with the successive waves of refugees and immigrants (and their children and grandchildren) – of many religions, races and places of origin – who have continued to arrive in Canada over the 111 years since Chaim and Chaya Moscovitch got off the boat in Halifax.

The production was brilliantly staged and the play – which made me both laugh and cry – reminded me to appreciate the sacrifices and hard lives of my own ancestors. The show is a must-see – don’t miss it!

A warning though, “Old Stock” has mature themes and may not be suitable for young children or those offended by profane language and/or frank references to sexuality.

Find me on Twitter.

And on Facebook.

Mike Regenstreif

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Saturday Morning with Mike Regenstreif – CKCU – Saturday October 12, 2019

Saturday Morning is an eclectic roots-oriented program on CKCU in Ottawa heard live on Saturday mornings from 7 until 10 am (Eastern time) and then available for on-demand streaming. I am one of the four rotating hosts of Saturday Morning and base my programming on the Folk Roots/Folk Branches format I developed at CKUT in Montreal.

CKCU can be heard live at 93.1 FM in Ottawa and on the web.

This episode of Saturday Morning can be streamed on-demand at …

The Refugees- Turnagain Arm
How Far It Goes (The Refugees)

Marc Nerenberg- Darlin’ Corey
Linda McRae- Caney Fork River
Going to the Well (42 RPM)
Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer- Jump Up Ginger
Wahoo! (Community Music)

Ian & Sylvia- Darcy Farrow
The Lost Tapes (Stony Plain)
Marty Morrissey- Grapes on the Vine
The Ancient Ground (Marty Morrissey)
Steve Gillette & Cindy Mangsen- When the First Leaves Fall
A Sense of Place (Redwing)

Katherine Rondeau- Urge for Going
Unfortunate Point of View (Katherine Rondeau)
Disappear Fear- Changes
Get Your Phil (Disappear Records)
Sharon Goldman- Lone Black Crow
Every Trip Around the Sun (Sharon Goldman)
Tom Russell- October in the Railroad Earth

Gathering Sparks- Hey Marguerite
All That’s Real (Borealis)
Shelley Posen- Emily
Ontario Moon (Well Done Music)
Katie Dahl- Helen
Wildwood (Leaky Boat)
Christine Lavin- Jane
The Best of Christine Lavin (Christine Lavin)

Extended Feature: Remembering Bessie Smith (1894-1937). Versions of the next 15 songs were recorded by Bessie Smith between 1923 and 1937.

Rory Block- Weeping Willow Blues
Penny Lang- Careless Love
Stone + Sand + Sea + Sky (Borealis)
Jim Kweskin & The Neo-Passé Jazz Band- Jazzbo Brown from Memphis Town
Jump for Joy (Vanguard)
Ann Rabson- Do Your Duty
In a Family Way (Emit Doog Music)
Bessie Smith- I’m Wild About That Thing
Bessie Smith: The Absolutely Essential 3 CD Collection (Big3)

Bessie Smith
Vassar Clements & Maria Muldaur- I Ain’t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle
Livin’ with the Blues (Acoustic Disc)
Judy Henske- Empty Bed Blues
The Elektra Albums (Ace)
Dave Van Ronk- You’ve Been a Good Old Wagon
…and the tin pan bended, and the story ended… (Smithsonian Folkways)
Gaye Adegbalola- Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl
Bitter Sweet Blues (Alligator)
Bessie Smith- Gimme a Pigfoot (and a Bottle of Beer)
Bessie Smith: The Absolutely Essential 3 CD Collection (Big3)

Martin Grosswendt & Susanne Salem-Schatz- After You’ve Gone
New Songs, Old Hats (Martin Grosswendt & Susanne Salem-Schatz)
Tom Rush- Black Mountain Blues
Tom Rush/Take a Little Walk with Me (BGO)
Odetta- Rich Man Blues (Poor Man’s Blues)
Blues Everywhere I Go (M.C.)
Memphis Slim- Backwater Blues
The Folkways Years 1959-1973 (Smithsonian Folkways)
Bessie Smith- On Revival Day
Bessie Smith: The Absolutely Essential 3 CD Collection (Big3)

The Durham County Poets perform tonight at the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield.

Durham County Poets- Hand Me Down Blues
Hand Me Down Blues (Durham County Poets)

Ball & Chain and the Wreckers perform tonight at Irene’s.

Ball & Chain and the Wreckers- Surrender
Surrender (Ball and Chain)

Sneezy Waters performs at on Wednesday, October 23 at Irene’s.  

Sneezy Waters- Bird of Paradise
A Letter Home (Sneezy Waters)

Rob Lutes performs Thursday, October 24 at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage.

Rob Lutes- Hardest Thing of All
Walk in the Dark (Lucky Bear)

“Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story,” starring Ben Caplan, returns to the Babs Asper Theatre at the National Arts Centre from October 17-27.

Ben Caplan- You’ve Arrived
Old Stock (Rhyme and Reason)
The Small Glories- Sing
Assiniboine & the Red (Red House)
The Wild Reeds- Tom Traubert’s Blues
Come On Up to the House: Women Sing Waits (Dualtone)
Bill Jones- So, Here’s to You
Wonderful Fairy Tale (Brick Wall Music)

Aviva Chernick- A Ti, Espanya
La Serena (Aviva Chernick)
Perla Batalla- Cucurrucucu Paloma
Discoteca Batalla (Mechuda Music)
Alex Cuba- La Mujeres
Sublime (Caracol) 

Allison Lupton- Ontario Tune Set
Words of Love (Allison Lupton Music)

I’ll be hosting Saturday Morning next on November 9 during the CKCU Funding Drive.

Find me on Twitter. @MikeRegenstreif

--Mike Regenstreif