THE MELTING Pot had not been seen before now on a British stage in almost 80 years.
So it’s somewhat curious that Max Elton’s production opens with an introductory letter to then US president Theodore Roosevelt from its author Israel Zangwill thanking him for praising his work.
It’s easy to see why Roosevelt liked it. At points, Zangwill’s 1908 play projects an almost propaganda-like view of the US as “God’s crucible in which all the races can combine” — thus its protagonist and tormented composer David Quixano (Steffan Cennydd).
What’s curious about Elton’s decision is that, along with a series of additional segments of narration, it adds nothing to what is already a rather transparent play.
Typical of the period, Zangwill leaves little to the imagination as he details the Romeo and Juliet-like tale of two young Russian immigrants recently arrived in New York.
Drawn together by a love of music, they are estranged by faith and history. David, his uncle Mendel (Peter Marinker) and grandmother are “sea-tossed wanderers” who have fled the brutal Kishinev pogroms, while Vera (Whoopie van Raam) has deserted her revolutionary youth, having been expelled to Siberia.
She is instantly drawn to the virtuoso violinist who has come to teach at the settlement house for refugees in which she works until she discovers that “the wonderful boy is a Jew.”
Yet rampant antisemitism cannot stop David’s talents from reaching an audience, nor prevent their passions from bubbling over.
But the demons of their pasts take much, wildly melodramatic, overcoming.
The eight-strong cast give it their best shot, with Alexander Gatehouse and Hayward B Morse in particular both producing very shrewd turns.
But they cannot overcome the play’s antiquated nature. As a historical document, The Melting Pot provides a very necessary reminder of the rich US history of immigration and the prejudice that accompanied it.
Yet, as a drama, it couldn’t be much more formulaic.