I’m keenly aware that this is a board game review blog, and that I’m ill-equipped to offer a proper review on something so outside my wheelhouse, but sometimes you need to step outside your comfort zone. This weekend, I engaged with art that left me emotionally raw, and I feel compelled to share them here. I hope you enjoy this divergence from the regular, cardboard content that normally appears here.

My partner and I love live theatre. One of our first dates, I was trying to impress her and bought tickets to a local production of Pride & Prejudice, and it ignited a love for plays in both our hearts. We’ve been to dozens of plays over the years, but unfortunately, a lot less so since Covid happened and we brought a baby in our household.

This week, my wife organized childcare, procured tickets, and picked me up from my office for dinner and a date. The dinner was a delicious sweet and sour pork belly from Foo, one of the few restaurants that we go back to specifically for that dish. Then we meandered down to the playhouse, and sat down, unaware of the emotion damage we were about to receive.

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story written by Hanna Moscovitch, directed by Christian Barry, with songs by Ben Caplan & Christian Barry is a dark folktale story about two Romanian refugees, Chaim (played by Eric Da Costa) and Chaya (played by Shaina Silver-Baird), finding each other at the docks of Halifax, waiting in line to get cleared medically. They part ways, but come back together when they meet in Montreal. He’s a plucky 19-year-old, she’s a 24-year-old widow. He remembers her, asks to marry, and she reluctantly consents “If it’s her father’s wishes”.

Much of the story is told through the rough but powerful voice of the narrator, ‘The Wanderer’ (preformed by Ben Caplan). He skips merrily from side to side of the stage, singing of the cold, the joy of matrimony, and the bleakness of fleeing your home. His bushy beard matches his strong baritone, and while his jubilant high notes get the audience clapping in beat, while in the solemn moments you could hear a pin drop. The score mixes folk, rock, and lullaby, utilizing woodwinds, violin, saxophone, and even a megaphone at one point. Chaim and Chaya perform double duty in playing various instruments while The Wanderer narrates.

Photo via 2b Theatre’s webpage

Living in Montreal where everything is cold, Chaim and Chaya eventually have a baby. Chaim has been working on the railways, good work at $8 a week! One night, he tries to join his friends in watching a film at the theatre, but gets stopped by an anti-Semitic message. Suddenly, a crack forms, and he remembers the pogrom that killed his entire family. He goes home, and his child has a fever. Chaya’s sure it typhus, the ailment that claimed her husband’s life, but the doctor refuses to see her, and she doesn’t know why!

It’s at this turning point that The Wonderer, with a cloth draped over his head, sings a hauntingly beautiful Yiddish melody. My heart was in my throat, not knowing if the child lives or dies. Spoiler, he lives. And the cast goes on to live a full life. Chaya dies at 77, Chaim at 92. They have 4 kids, and 16 great-grandchildren, who all achieve so much.

The story of Old Stock is the true story of playwright Hanna Moscovitch’s great-grandparents. While creative license was taken, the story remains true. It left me contemplating humanity, and how could anyone fathom to hurt other humans! How can people have such hate in their heart that they tear through a community. I reflect on how blessed and lucky I am that I live in a place where me and my child don’t have those worries. We have safety, stability, and freedom.

Photo via 2b Theatre’s webpage

Old Stock is dark and thought-provoking. I found The Wanderer’s wild energy utterly charming, and encourage everyone to seek out this play. Some parts are crass, and being confronted with the very real suffering that feels so far removed from my daily life left me uncomfortable, the raw emotions I felt are a good reminder of why art is important in the first place. In the age of media, that seems made solely to entertain, it’s a good reminder that art evokes deep and complex emotions. It lets you see a snippet of someone else’s life and story, and sometimes that reminds you that while so easy to just divide humans into Us and Them, we’re all still humans, and the pain we inflict on others is real.