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THEATER BEAT

'Immigrant' Finds Land of Anxiety, Triumph

August 30, 1996|JANA J. MONJI

Americans who have struggled to communicate in a foreign country only to be greeted by blank stares or pejorative laughs have the barest inkling of the battles facing new immigrants. Even the literate can be stripped of their adulthood by their linguistic ineptitude and cultural ignorance. And so it is for "The Immigrant," a Russian Jew who begins his new life in America by selling bananas in the small Texas town of Hamilton in 1909.

Director J. David Krassner sensitively guides a talented quartet of actors through a heartwarming, gut-wrenchingly poignant revival of Mark Harelik's play at Theatre 40. Based on the life of Harelik's grandfather, this piece captures his unique experience while illuminating common tribulations, anxieties and triumphs of all Americans.

Barely speaking any English, shamefully dirty and "lonely as a stone," Haskell (Artur Cybulski) befriends the wife of the local banker, Ima (Elizabeth Meads). Ima is more uncomfortable with his Jewishness than his ragged appearance, but Haskell slowly wins her trust. Her husband, Milton (Bill Gratton), eventually helps Haskell realize his American dream, although politics eventually alienate the two proud men.

Krassner deftly balances the small tragedies with the delightful comic relief that Harelik provided. Initially, Cybulski's Haskell is a man reduced to radiant boyishness by poverty and linguistic limitations. He gradually blossoms with confidence that is eventually desiccated with brittle pride. As his wife Leah, Amy Beth Cohn is fearfully hysterical, clinging to her old life until she begins to find comfort in her new life. Gratton and Meads complete the ensemble, portraying the kind of openhearted and well meaning people that we all hope to be.

The audience applauded with quiet tears and hushed sniffling. What better recommendation could there be?

* "The Immigrant," Theatre 40, 241 Moreno Drive (on the Beverly Hills High School campus); Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. $15-18. Ends Oct. 6. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hour, 30 minutes.

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