A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW
Jacksonville Beaches Players by the Sea is always coming up with new ideas. Last year, they created a “Second Season” to expand their offerings. The plays, most with limited sets and costuming, are staged in the Studio Theatre, which has about eighty seats. The first play of this venture was “Memories of Ruby Mae” in September, 2019. Players did not sell tickets for the play but did accept donations. This year they staged “The Immigrant,” during January 9 – 11.
“The Immigrant” was written in 1985 by multi-talented Mark Harelik, an American television, film, and stage actor, and playwright. The play is new to our local stages but has been well-received; adaptations include a musical and a film. Of note: the theatre is displaying an exhibit in the lobby of paintings, stories and art work by Arabic women through a collaboration with Hope McMath and the Yellow House Gallery.
“The Immigrant” is based on the story of Haskell and Leah Harelik, Jewish immigrants from Russia who were the playwright’s grandparents. Haskell was the first to arrive in 1909, and he decided not to stay in New York. Instead, he traveled west and settled down in Hamilton, a small town (12,000 residents) in Texas. His choice was puzzling. Why Texas and why Hamilton? He did not speak English and had no friends, and there were no Jewish residents in Hamilton who might have been able to help him. However, he was smart and resourceful. He needed money to send for his wife and somehow obtained a cart and launched his career as an entrepreneur by selling bananas – two cents each.
Hays Jacobs was excellent as Haskell, as he charms his way into the home of banker Milton Perry after asking in Yiddish for water and a place to stay. Mr. Perry, portrayed hilariously by Jacksonville’s “Mr. Theatre” Bill Ratliff, is initially opposed to giving him a room as his need for a bed to sleep in just really isn’t the Perry’s problem. However, his wife Ima, whose surprising strength and modern ideas are portrayed wonderfully by Gretta Russe, persuades him that they must help this stranger as an act of Christian charity, even though he does not share their faith. Haskell’s life and livelihood improve as he gradually learns English, and Milton, as his banker and financial advisor, helps him build his business.
He is filled with joy when his wife Leah joins him. She is initially hesitant about this new home in a strange land, but this changes as time passes. The role is portrayed convincingly by Liz Gerhardt, a dance instructor from St. Augustine. The couple has a good life together, which includes the opening of a dry goods store and the birth of three sons.
Harolyn Sharpe cast and directed this upbeat play. She is a retired teacher and frequently appears in or directs plays on our local stage. The staging included projected vintage photos, which deepened our sense of connection to the characters throughout the production.
The cast crew and volunteers included Ben Sparenberg & Hunter Steinke (Technical Operators), Roy Sharpe (Set Construction), Caroline Lee (Yiddish Coach), Jereme Raickett (Production Manager), Alexandra Blackwell (Marketing), Lucy Swett (Program & Graphics), Hope McMath (Art Exhibit), Bradley Akers (Poster and Social Media Design), and Matt Hartley (Interfaith Council).
Coming up is “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” during January 24 – February 15, 2020. The theatre is located at 106 6th Street North in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. For reservations call 904-249-0289 or visit playersbythesea.org.