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The Measure of Courage: The Immigrant

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The Immigrant was first performed in 1985 and has become a staple of theatre companies ever since. I first reviewed the play in 2012, when it was performed in Ft. Lauderdale. Don Toner, who is directing the play at the Austin Playhouse for the second time, told me that the actors who portrayed the Jewish couple in his first production here in Austin 28 years ago coached the actors in this play with the dialect and songs.


Imagine a man with business sense, a woman with a big heart, and a young Russian Jew with drive and a dream. The result of this unlikely synergy in a small Texas town a century ago is The Immigrant. Set in Hamilton (pop. 1200), 120 miles north of Austin, the performance takes place on a minimalist stage set against an ever-changing backdrop of period photos of the real-life characters that inspired the play. It all serves to enhance the often dramatic and sometimes comical plot.


In the lead role of Haskell Harelik is Joseph Garlock as a young immigrant from Russia (circa 1906). In Hamilton he encounters the husband and wife team of Milton and Ima Perry, played by Huck Huckaby and Cyndi Williams. Part way through the play they are joined by Haskell's wife, portrayed by Estrella Saldana. This tight group make the text sparkle: a superb individual and quartet performance.


The play is a study in courage at many levels. As Ima says to Haskell, “travelling thousands of miles, putting on a new language, and eating my cooking: if that's not courage I don't know what is!”


Toner says thatWith all the anti-immigrant rhetoric spewing out of the White House these days, it is good to be reminded that this country was built by immigrants who came to the United States seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Their diversity, hard work, and love of country are truly what makes us great.”


But as some members of the audience said, the immigrants of a century ago were committed to integrating, and often anxious to slough off the language and customs of their heritage to become Americans. This is not always the case with 21st century immigrants to the U.S., and the same can be said for immigrants to Canada and European countries. Whatever the case, this play takes the blinkers off to let anyone who sees it regard immigration in a different way, and that power will endure as long as immigration (forced or otherwise) continues to shape the nations of Earth.


The Immigrant will be at the Austin Playhouse until Jan. 28, 2018.


Lead photo: Huck Huckaby and Joseph Garlock


second photo: Cyndi Williams and Huck Huckaby


Follow this link to read my review of this play from 2012:




Clifford Cunningham

Dr. Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist. He earned his PhD in the history of astronomy at the University of Southern Queensland, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. In 2014 he was named a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the author of 14 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honor in 1990 by the International Astronomical Union based on the recommendation of its bureau located at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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