Nova Scotia

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story starring Ben Caplan earns off-Broadway accolades

A Halifax theatre production starring folk performer Ben Caplan is earning accolades at home and in New York City. The New York Times made it a critic's pick.

Production tells the story of Romanian Jews arriving in Halifax 100 years ago

A Halifax theatre production starring folk performer Ben Caplan is earning accolades at home and in New York City.

2b Theatre's production Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story is playing off-Broadway at 59E59 Theaters. 

Since its debut, the New York Times has named it a critic's pick and the New Yorker said "it is hard to imagine a more apt time for a production with so clear a moral center."

This week, it picked up seven Theatre Nova Scotia Robert Merritt awards.

Hannah Moscovitch, Ben Caplan and Christian Barry created Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story. Caplan plays 'the Wanderer.' (Carly Beamish)

Caplan said he and director Christian Barry conceived of the "dark folk tale" in 2015 after hearing former prime minister Stephen Harper's controversial comments about "old stock Canadians."

Caplan started looking at his own family's ancestry and immigration stories, and was motivated by the haunting images of the young Syrian boy Alan Kurdi, whose body was photographed washed up on a beach in Greece.

"The stories, tragically, have not gotten old. It's the same story, over and over again about people fleeing persecution, finding certain degrees of welcoming and certain degrees of hostility, in the place they're feeling to. And an extraordinary resonance in what's happening today," Caplan said. 

Ben Caplan and Mary Fay Coady. The play is set in Halifax a century ago. (Stoo Metz Photography)

Playwright Hannah Moscovitch worked with Caplan and director Christian Barry, penning a story about her own Jewish great-grandparents. Chaim and Chaya Moscovitch fled violence in Romania and journeyed to Canada, arriving at Halifax's Pier 21 in 1908.

"The idea was to take the story of people who are now considered to be old stock Canadians and look at the time period 100 years ago, when that was not the case," Caplan said. 

"You never know what the response is going to be but the fact that we've had such a warm response here [in New York], it's been unbelievable."

Acting, directing, writing awards

This week, Theatre Nova Scotia honoured Old Stock at the 2018 Robert Merritt Awards, named after the Dalhousie Theatre professor who died in 1999.

It won for outstanding new play by a Nova Scotian and outstanding production. Mary Fay Coady, who plays the main character Chaya, won the award for outstanding performance by a female actor in a leading role. 

Barry won outstanding direction and Caplan won outstanding musical direction and best original score. Louisa Adamson, Barry and Andrew Cull were recognized for outstanding scenic design. Adamson was also honoured for stage managing. 

The play premiered in Halifax last May. After its run in New York ends April 22, there are performances scheduled for Edmonton in May.

With files from Amy Smith