Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 6, 2017


Goodspeed, East Haddam, CT
through December 10, 2017
by Shera Cohen

I read program books. I would guess that most audience members do the same. However, I read every page, even the list of donors – well, not quite all the names. Unique to “Rags” is its pages of actors, complete with the usual photo headshots and a paragraph on each. However, at the end of each description appears a line stating the nationalities of each actor’s roots, where these individuals immigrated from; i.e. Ireland, Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, the Philippines, Italy, Australia. In other words, just about everywhere. What a thoughtful extra on the part of Goodspeed’s playbill staff to provide this information, so apropos to the subject matter of “Rags,” not to mention suitable to 21st century America.

“Rags” is the story of Rebecca, a young Jewish woman from Russia in the early 1900’s. Yet, “Rags” is everyone’s story of those journeying to the United States for a new life. Rebecca is a strong woman, gutsy, perhaps a little ahead of her time. Her interaction with her surrogate family, neighbors, two suitors, and most of all her young son show the audience a woman who must survive poverty, uncertainty, and responsibility all alone. Samantha Massell, gives her character gentleness and grit. She appears in nearly every scene, but never seemingly like the “star.” She “plays” well with others, and sings even better. What a superb soprano voice.

It’s difficult to find a flaw in any of the actors. The camaraderie of new found “sisters,” the reunion of father and daughter, and the excitement of three romantic couples is the groundwork for “Rag.” Throughout, the orchestra murmurs refrains of klezmer music alternating or mixed with honky-tonk jazz.

The musical is long, with many characters. Actors often double roles. A beautifully quaffed and dressed quintet, primarily representing Yankees, weave in and out of scenes making it clear that immigrants are not wanted here.

Director Rob Ruggiero (whose talents are seen at TheatreWorks and Barrington Stage) and Scenic Designer Michael Schweikart have obviously worked hand in hand, blocking the actors on the turning circular stage where most of the story takes place.

The success of “Rags” lays in what it is not. It is not a star-studded cast, the audience doesn’t “oh” and “ah,” there is no stopping this tale from telling the truth. Never does the audience think, “Okay, I’m watching a play now.” Instead, on some important level, “Rags” is a story of all of us.