(Variations on a theme by Israel Zangwill)
A century ago, the United States was embroiled in a bitter dispute over immigration. Nativists warned that a flood of new immigrants—Russian, Italian, and most dangerous of all, Jewish—posed an existential threat to American identity, while liberals fought to maintain the ideal of America as a haven for all races and cultures. Into the fray leapt “The Melting Pot,” a play by Israel Zangwill. It celebrated the metaphor of its title, and both the play—a wildly popular melodrama—and the metaphor were seized upon as powerful weapons by those fighting to defend open borders. The current play distills the immigrant love story at the heart of the original melodrama and interweaves it with the story of Zangwill’s play itself and its role in America’s early twentieth-century culture wars.