The Immigrant - Synopsis

Act I

In 1909, Haskell Harelik, a young Russian-Jewish man, steps out of steerage into the port city of Galveston, Texas. Speaking no English, he wrangles together a wheelbarrow and a bunch of bananas and heads north into the great interior ("The Stars"). When he reaches the tiny rural community of Hamilton, deep in the heart of Texas, he can go no farther. Exhaustion drops him in the front yard of Milton and Ima Perry. Milton is the town banker; Ima, his devout Calvary Baptist wife. Acting with Christian charity, Ima convinces her husband to give Haskell a room for the night. When she finds out Haskell is a Jew, she has second thoughts ("A Stranger Here").

Six weeks later, the young immigrant is still in their home, peddling his bananas around the county, studying his English primer, paying Mr. Perry ten cents a night for the room ("Simply Free"). (It was their son Charlie's room; their son long gone and unheard from.) Mr. Perry summons Haskell to his office to give him his walking papers, but he gets caught up in Haskell's innocence and excitement about this "new land," and ends up loaning him money for a new horse and wagon ("Changes"). Haskell quickly prospers and Mr. Perry keeps giving him assistance against his better judgement. Meanwhile it has been revealed that Haskell has indeed been sending money to his wife, Leah, in Russia ("Travel Light").

When Ima finds out that a group of boys from town have attacked Haskell on the road, her view of what she considered her good Christian community is shaken ("Keep Him Safe"). Milton feels he's made himself a target in the town by helping Haskell. He sets Haskell up in a new grocery store ("Changes-Reprise") and when Leah (still a secret from the Perry's), arrives from Russia, small and frightened, Milton and Ima both feel taken advantage of.

Haskell and Leah have moved into the attic above the grocery. Haskell has made a home for himself in Hamilton, but what feels like freedom and promise to Haskell feels like a life of isolation to Leah ("I Don't Want It"). Haskell tries to comfort her, but she seems inconsolable ("The Stars-Finale Act I").

Act II

Act II opens with Ima puttering around her kitchen, singing a hymn ("Take the Comforting Hand-Hymn"). Leah is nine months pregnant with her first child, unhappy and alone. Haskell sends Leah to visit Ima. Ima doesn't know what to do with this foreign child. As Leah helps Ima prepare supper, they discover they a number of superstitions in common ("Padadooly"). Leah's need for a mother and Ima's need for child bring them together ("The Stars - Leah").

The Harelik family grows. Though Haskell and Milton never really settled their differences, a kind of father-son amity grows between them. The fact that Haskell's not a Christian appeals to the skeptical Milton, who's constantly harassed by Ima to get baptized "before it's too late." To Milton's obvious pleasure, three "unbaptized Texans" are born to the Harelik's in quick succession and the third is named for Milton ("The Sun Comes Up").

In 1939, Leah prepares a Sabbath dinner for the two couples ("Candlesticks/Shabbos"). The rumblings of war are heard from Europe and Haskell feels the pain and guilt of having left his people behind. Leah and Ima have become like sisters, but Haskell and Milton, who's a firm isolationist, quarrel -- at first about politics, but then about keeping a family together and raising sons. Haskell inadvertently insults Milton, who storms out of the house, never to return ("Where Would You Be?").

At the women's insistence, Haskell visits Milton some months later and finds him immobilized by a stroke. With difficulty, Haskell thanks Milton for saving his life ("No Place to Go"). Milton doesn't respond. Only after Haskell and Leah leave does he mumble "goodbye."

After Milton dies unbaptized, Ima is desolate. She runs to Leah's arms for comfort ("Take The Comforting Hand of Jesus"). Leah fears for her three sons, all of whom are fighting in the War. Haskell brings home a young sapling to plant in hope of their salvation. The story ends as Haskell, Ima, and Leah gather around the young tree, pressing their hopes and their faith into its new leaves, knowing it will outlive them all ("The Stars - Finale Act II").