What is it like to flee persecution in your homeland and find a wilderness in a country where you speak very little of the language and must trust in the kindness of people you don’t know, who don’t know you? Haskell Harelik’s experience in “The Immigrant”—now at George Street Playhouse (GSP), in New Brunswick, New Jersey—while set with the backdrop of the pogroms in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, has a great deal to say to us right now in the 21st.
Playwright and actor Mark Harelik wrote this play from a concept he had with Randal Myler. Taking Harelik’s family history as a basis, we get a view of what Galveston, Texas was like and how people viewed and interacted with people who are not like themselves. When Haskell Harelik meets Galveston, the two will never be the same.
Haskell (Benjamin Pelteson) is a survivor. A devout Jew, he understands that in a land where men are clean shaven, he needs to fit in. While at home, as a married man, he would wear a beard–here, he cannot. He finagles his way from a canteen of water from a well to a rented room in the home of the Perry family, banker Milton (R. Ward Duffy) and his wife Ima (Gretchen Hall), who see how hard working Haskell is. During this time in the world, people often helped others. The Perrys had some room, Haskell needed shelter. For ten cents a night, both parties are satisfied. Then Haskell surprises the Perrys with the arrival of his wife, Leah (Lauriel Friedman), and the tale of the Hareliks in America truly begins.
Jim Jack, who directed the 2016 GSP production of “My Name is Asher Lev,” gives us a tale of two families. We are not all that different from the people who come here today. A generation or two prior to Haskell and Leah, or perhaps more recently, many of our ancestors set foot on the soil here in the New World. When we fail to remember the ways we are the same, our entire society is that much less rich.
The show runs until April 7, and what a gift for family and dear friends for Spring! Make plans to visit www.GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org