Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Kindertransport"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark


by Diane Samuels
Directed by Adam Zahler

Scenic Design by Janie E. Howland
Lighting Design by John R. Malinowski
Music by Haddon Kime
Costume Design by Emily Justice Dunn
Prop Design by Amy McIver
Production Stage Manager Jessica Rae Chartoff

Eva.......................Emily Dubner
Helga....................Rachel Harker
Evelyn...............Nancy E. Carroll
Faith............................Jo Barrick
Ratcatcher..........Russell Berrigan
Lil..............................Alice Duffy

Early in the Second World War when London was being bombed, a lot of the children were sent to safety in Coventry --- where many of them died when Hitler bombed Coventry. Diane Samuels in her play "Kindertransport" documents a similar destruction of many German Jewish children sent for safety to England who, thereafter, had to live with their overwhelming guilt at having Survived the holocaust --- a guilt that, often, ruined not only their own lives but those of their children as well. In the restrained, relentlessly uncompromising production Adam Zahler has directed at The New Repertory Theatre, four generations of women in an attic full of memories face these facts for the very first time.

Attics, after all, are where things no longer useful yet too important to discard get stored away --- in this case things people would prefer not to think about. And so the play begins with a squirming nine-year-old (Emily Dubner) learning lessons of life from her mother (Rachel Harker) on the eve of her departure. John Malinowski's subtle lights will move her through time and space into a whole new life, shrouded always by the memories of that journey.

In that attic also is that same, grown, woman (Nancy E. Carroll) sending her querulous college-age daughter (Jo Barrick) off to her own apartment. The air between them is thick with things they have never said to one another, bickerings over trivia fraught with subtexts. Daughter pokes about discovering her own old dolls, and her mother's old, secret life. undeniable at last.

The swing-figure here is the English woman (Alice Duffy) who took the little girl in, mothered her for seven harrowing years, and now can at the turn of a phrase turn from the child in the past to the woman in the present, trying in both cases to give wisdom, understanding, and comfort to situations which may have no solutions, merely painful compromises.

Russell Berrigan here plays several avatars --- a Nazi customs official, a monolingual English social-worker --- of "The Ratcatcher" who, sanitized as the Pied Piper, led all the children of Hamelin to an abyss from which they never returned.

The play is short, but the depth of feeling is intense, the new perspectives on familiar ground unsettling. And, like the symbolic Rat-catcher's ominous shadow, it echoes on, unresolved, long after final bows --- partly because of the vibrant originality of the script, but also because of what may yet turn out to be the best acting of this very new year.


"Kindertransport" (till February)
54 Lincoln Street, NEWTON HIGHLANDS

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide