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Musical explores history of racism, anti-Semitism in U.S.

In March, Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School (MICDS) performed their annual winter/spring musical “Ragtime” by Terrence McNally (based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow). The emotional and enthralling story follows three main groups: the immigrants, the African American community and upper-class whites in early 20th- century New York City. 

According to the show’s director Carolyn Hood, the performance was “a historically accurate depiction of what was happening at the time.” All of the groups went to great lengths to keep to themselves, and to avoid the others. This seclusion led the African American and immigrant groups to suffer the most discrimination. Specifically, the Jewish immigrants were discriminated against in hurtful and disturbing ways.

The two main Jewish immigrants in the play who receive the bulk of the hatred are Tateh, played by MICDS senior Harry Coovert, and Tateh’s daughter, portrayed by freshman Annabelle Abramov, who in the play is known only as “Little Girl.” Some of the statements said to the two include, “You idiot Yid” and “What is wrong with you people?” 

However, Abramov had a deeper connection to this play than what was portrayed on stage. “As a Russian Jew, and the daughter of an immigrant, I immediately felt a deep connection to this character,” she said.

Throughout the musical, the Jewish immigrants find themselves rejected multiple times, especially in the song “Our Shtetl Iz Amereke.” When the immigrants are waiting to be let into America, they are “treated like animals in a zoo” said Abramov. 

Later, a man tries to get Tateh to sell Little Girl to him, though Tateh discernibly and emotionally turns down the man’s offer with ease. “It became Tateh’s determination to live the American dream and to be able to provide for his daughter,” Abramov explained.

Moreover, in the thickness of all of the racism and discrimination, Tateh manages to overcome the hatred. Coovert says that even though his character, Tateh, faces these challenges, he still manages to motivate himself to be successful.

In the quest to find a buyer of his new invention, the Flipbook, Tateh encounters a train conductor. The conductor buys the book, and Tateh is instantly “filled with a new sense of hope,” said Coovert. Tateh, still being driven by his love for his daughter and his desire for her to be able to live her best life, takes the purchase to heart, and ends up making a big name for himself in the entertainment business.

Tateh goes on to create popular movies and silent films, and is able to fully provide for his daughter. In the ending scenes, the audience sees how all the characters have evolved, and how they had made a living for themselves. Tateh is shown with his daughter, expressing joy and merriness. 

As Coovert explained the finale, it was “through determination and hard work, Tateh was able to overcome the prejudice he experienced.”