Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Quick Hit Theater Review: The Immigrant -- Seven Angels

Paula Blankenship, Max Bisanz, Rita Markova and Sarah Knapp. Photo: Paul Roth
The Immigrant
Book By Mark Harelik
Lyrics by Sarah Knapp
Music by Steven M. Alper
Directed by Semina De Laurentis
Seven Angels Theatre

What's it All About?
Subtitled "An American Musical," it is in the truest sense the story of striving for the American Dream. Haskell (Max Bisantz) arrives in the small town of Hamilton, in Central Texas, shortly after the turn of the century, pushing a banana cart and unable to speak English. Wary at first of the stranger, who also turns out to be a Jew, Milton and Ima (Paul Blankenship and Sarah Knapp) take him in. Milton, the town's banker, partners with Haskell to help build his business, which eventually turns into a dry goods store. When Haskell finally saves enough to bring his wife, Leah (Rita Markova), over from Russia, the friendship is tested, however. Haskell no longer is the observant Jew she married. The new country has changed him. He doesn't wear his hat, keep a Kosher home or observe the Sabbath any more.

Leah tries to adjust, but doesn't "want a life where I can't be me" and ultimately finds an unlikely friend in Ima. The women find they have a lot in common despite their many differences. Ima, a staunch Baptist, laments the fact that Milton doesn't go to church and has never been baptised. The friendship between the couples and Haskell and Leah's children grows over the years until some harsh words threaten the relationships. Eventually roles switch and the the bonds of love and friendship prove strong enough to hold.

What are the highlights?
Director Semina De Laurentis brings together a wonderful ensemble, including Lyricist Knapp as Sarah and her real-life husband, Composer Steven M. Alper, who serves as Musical Director. Vocals are good across the boards with Basantz' cantor-like voice doing justice to Alper's ethnic-laced. pleasant sounding score played by a four-member band. Mark Harelik's play, based on the story of his grandparents, young Russian Jews fleeing persecution in Czarist Russia in 1909,  is sad and sweet and is storytelling at its best. Knapp remarkably portrays the aging of her character from 1909 to 1942. The set designed by Erik D. Diaz, easily switches out to create several locations.

What are the low lights?
Nothing worth mentioning. An absorbing, touching two and a half hours at the theater.
More information:
The Immigrant runs through April 21 at Seven Angels Theatre, 1 Plank Road, Waterbury. Tickets and information: (203) 757-4676; http://sevenangelstheatre.org/.
Special Nights-
Friday, April 12 Sweet Maria’s Night
Saturday, April 13 Fascia’s Chocolate Night
Friday, April 19Wine & Martini Night
Sundaes on Sunday April 21

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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