How do you fall in love when you’re broken? How do you fall in love when you’ve already been in love? What is safe haven and what does it feel like?
Born out of a collaboration between luminary playwright Hannah Moscovitch, larger-than-life musician Ben Caplan and director Christian Barry (who is also Hannah’s husband), Old Stock blends music, theatre, and storytelling to tell the story of Moscovitch’s great-grandparents who arrived in Canada in 1908 as refugees fleeing the pogroms. Though that sounds pretty serious Moscovitch is quick to note, “yeah, it is a dark topic but I should say it’s a love story (laughs). And we tell a lot of jokes ‘cause that’s how Jews get out of pain, you know.” Old Stock’s run at Canada Scene is a kind of homecoming for Hannah Moscovitch who grew up in Ottawa and is now based in Halifax and Toronto.
If the title sounds familiar it’s because it is. “Old Stock” is a clever reference to Stephen Harper’s comment in a 2015 leader’s debate that took on a life of its own. At the time, Caplan and Barry were throwing around ideas for a project before inviting Moscovitch aboard to tell her family’s story. “They were interested in this question of the politics of the moment. Ben, who is Jewish, was asking well, am I old stock? You couldn’t help but ask, is that the dog whistle to racists or what does that mean?”
The show is built around original music written and performed by Ben Caplan who plays an emcee-type character guiding the audience on this journey into memory. If you’ve ever seen Ben in action, it’s hard to imagine a better fit for this role. He knows how to fill a room, moving easily from bombastic showman to crooning poet. His Tom Waits-ian darkness and Klezmer-tinged sound fit right in with the story too. What makes this show special is that everyone else on stage is also a musician. Chris Weatherstone who plays Chaim Moscovitch plays clarinet and saxophone. Mary Fay Coady plays Chaya Yankovtich as well as violin. Filling out the band are Jamie Kronick on drums and Graham Scott on accordion and keys. Altogether, the music lends a whimsical, carnival atmosphere to an otherwise heavy story.
Although on paper Moscovitch is the writer, Christian Barry directs and Ben Caplan is an actor who also wrote the music when it came to creating Old Stock the process was thoroughly collaborative. “It’s complicated in every direction because we worked on it together,” Moscovitch says. The scenes were written around Ben’s songs and shaped around Barry’s direction choices. Though Chaim and Chaya are scripted as traditional characters when it came to Ben’s character Moscovitch says, “Ben is playing Ben. I’m always working with him to get it to sound right in his voice. I’m tailoring all the time to get it to sound as Ben-ish as possible.”
In the production’s teaser video, director Christian Barry introduces Old Stock as “a music, theatre, hybrid, concert, klezmer, folk fusion.” Though it’s a pretty enticing concept, what’s even more interesting is the story of how the show came to be. It’s a tale of serendipity, family history lost and found, and finding the political in the personal.
Apt613 got in touch with Hannah Moscovitch to learn more about the inspiration for Old Stock and how it came together. To learn more, check out that interview.