note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Joe Coyne
By Diane Samuels
Directed by Adam Zahler
Reviewed January 16, 2000 by Joe Coyne
She stands there in her immigrant winter jacket with a place card hung around her neck tied with string. Her name is Eva. The number 3362. For an evening it is a prop in a play named "Kindertransport." How difficult it is to erase that image from the mind. The image converts to a real number, hung around the neck of a real child. There were 10,000 such children, Jewish children, who in a life saving "voluntary" relocation were processed from Germany to the United Kingdom to start their lives again. Diane Samuel's 1991 play, "Kindertransport" relates but one of their stories. It is in production until February 13 at Newton Repertory Theater.
Ms. Samuel' drama is not offered as a typical account, but as a sample of the anguish and torment the children had to endure. All have different tales and I am sure stranger stories exist.
The inheritance of this Eva is the total denial of self. The child who left Germany to await her parents arrival a few months later was left with choices when her parents failed to arrive. The first one she makes, changing her name from Eva to Evelyn, is for assimilation into the society, the language and into the religion of her hosts. While the majority of the children retained their religion and had benefit of rabbis, some were even imprisoned, mostly the older "German" boys and sent to isolated war camps. The remade Evelyn buries her undealt with past and adopts all things English. Lil (Alice Duffy) is the kindly British mum that takes her in and raises her with love and understanding: understanding that does not extend to cultural differences. Ms Duffy besides having many of the humorous lines in the play is both Granny and Oma exuding a comfortable warm feeling (as compassionate as a Brit can be) and confidence in the decisions she has made, and assisted Evelyn in making. Her philosophy of doing the best you can is not a bad one.
Whether it be the older Evelyn (Nancy E. Carroll) ripping up the last traces of a denied life: photos, letters, her meaning and existence, the choice is repeated. While the scene shifts to another part of the stage, Ms Carroll continues to rip the papers smaller and smaller and physically displays her apparent success in finally terminating Eva's story. We empathize knowing life has a way of interfering with living. The younger Eva (played by Emily Dubner in an astonishing performance) some forty years before, lips twisted and face rigid, frozen into inactivity, had refused to alter that choice and rejected a reunion. Selling the family jewelry confirms it further. Each opportunity is closed thus closing the mind further.
The past intrudes when her daughter, Faith, discovers a German storybook in the attic. The eruption, causes Evelyn to momentarily confront a life spent in denial and inner recrimination. Her ". . . wanting it never to have happened" can never be a solution. Her choice again is for isolation and intractability.
Tragedy to be effective must be domestic. Nations and kings are sources, but familial problems strikes us personally; it humanizes the experience. This play does not avoid generational issues, selfishness or warped love. Nazi hatreds caused the problem; it is the characters that exacerbated them. It is real pain we see and it hurts. Ms Samuel has combined the stories well.
In the end, Evelyn does save two things: some book on Jewish customs and "The Ratcatcher" storybook her mother had given to her. She gives these lefthandedly to her daughter believing this token will appease an emerging interest on Faith's part of who she is. There is enough information to believe that Faith will not repeat the cycle.
Russell Berrigan mixes up the different male roles from the Nazi Border Official to the overwhelmed English Organizer. We are not bothered by the familiarity of his face, instead we wonder who he will portray this time. A mention for Janie E. Howland who designed an efficient, essentially simple set of wood cross bars for the attic.
January 24, 2000