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"The Immigrant' a welcome tale

In an age when fear of the unknown seems to be growing, a play like The Immigrant is not only fine entertainment, but also a welcome tonic.

American Stage presents the tale of a Russian Jew who has found his way to Texas in 1906. This play is simply sweet from beginning to end. Conflicts that come along seem to be there because a play needs a conflict. In truth, everything in this play is beautiful.

When Haskell Harelik approaches Ima Perry and offers to sell her some bananas "a penny a piece" (practically the only English he knows), a lifelong bond is forged between them. As Ima's husband, Milton, and Haskell's wife, Leah, enter the picture, they are swept up in this compassionate friendship. Through instances of anti-Semitism (played down in the story), World War II and later generations, the Hareliks and the Perrys remain fast and loving friends _ with one hitch (conflict, remember?).

A quartet of fine actors carries this play, not letting it become too cloying and preachy, making sure the characters drive the story, not the other way around.

The Immigrant is a difficult play to stage. So much of it can sound like a high school civics lesson that it can be presented as a pageant, rather than a story with real people.

The real people are here in abundance. As Haskell Harelik, Dan Matisa portrays a proud man, forced low by his demands for freedom. But that demand carries him onward and comforts him.

As his wife, Leah, Joanna Sycz has the strength of someone who would go across the world to see if things are better there. Her earlier fears are of being caught without a context. But as she grows used to Texas and her new life, she blooms.

Julia Flood is delightful as Ima, the story's Buddah character. Living a sheltered life of (relative) plenty, she suddenly discovers the suffering around her, in the person of Haskell, pushing that wheelbarrow full of bananas. Her joy at everything she learns about an alien culture is infectious.

Michael O. Smith is always a pleasure to see. He takes a character who could be simply standoffish and shows us his heart. As Milton Perry, a cigar and a booming voice could suffice, but Smith digs deeper and gives more of himself.

Of course, this is what this play is all about, giving of yourself more. A play that entertainingly reminds us to keep our options (and our hearts) open can only be a good thing.

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