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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Theatre review: Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story drips with rebellious compassion

A deeply personal history lesson inside a shipping container

Like a folktale dressed as a concert, Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story sketches the tragedy of two Romanian refugees with a depth of compassion that borders on rebellious. It is a century-spanning spiral of light, music, dance, and emotion – an achingly painful yet joyful cacophony contained in a shipping container.

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story follows Chaim and Chaya, two Romanian refugees, as they build a life together in Canada. Fleeing genocide, they fall in love, have children, and grow old. All under the watchful Wanderer provides insight, commentary, and song.

But this show is more than its plot. Compassion and dark humour seep out of every word.

Ben Caplan cavorts across the stage, a wild-haired Wanderer, and joyfully picks and pulls at threads of conscience the audience may have never noticed. His voice billows through the room with the resonance of a carny’s cackle, promising vast riches for those brave enough to enter.

Eric Da Costa’s Chaim has a willowy youthfulness that drops to tragic depths with the same enthusiasm as he brims with hope.

The real standout, though, is Shaina Silver-Baird’s Chaya. A stark, stern, and stiff house-mistress, she provides the steely mask that throws out the best dark humour of any Vancouver stage this year.

The set design from Louisa Adamson and Christian Barry underscores the fierce compassion of the story by setting it in a shipping container, connecting refugee stories with a simple act of staging.

The music from Ben Caplan, Christian Barry, and Graham Scott rollick with a verve that seeks to cheat a few more seconds from the grave. It is a design simultaneously cohesive and utilitarian. One can’t help think that Chaya would be proud.

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story ducks easy categorization. It is historical but also deeply personal and familiar. It roils and pulses with electric energy and life, but speaks of death and tragedy with a blunt matter-of-fact attitude that feels subversive.

At its core, Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story pushes buttons, it opens doors, and it begs questions an audience would rather not answer. It is Great Art. See it.

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story by Hannah Moscovitch. Directed by Christian Barry. A 2b theatre company production. Presented as part of the 2020 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. Visit for tickets and more information.

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