During the nine month period before the start of World War II, nearly 10,000 children residing in Nazi countries were sent to live in the United Kingdom as part of a rescue mission known as the Kindertransport. In her 1993 play, aptly named “Kindertransport,” Diane Samuels relates the fictional account of one such child—precocious Eva (Marleigh Purgar McDonald)—and the unexpected impacts that the event has on everyone involved, including future generations. The play splits its time equally between recounting young Eva’s journey and exploring her life many years later in the 1980s. In the 80s storyline, Eva, who has since changed her name to Evelyn, is portrayed by Mary Rowland, and the plot centers on Evelyn’s daughter Faith (Laura Bess Jernigan) and her discovery of her mother’s well-hidden past.
Director Brian Yandle, who chose the show as the debut performance for new production company Big Wig Productions, has a lot on his plate with these overlapping storylines, but he handles the challenge with ease, as does the small cast. Effortless accents, appropriate costumes, and a small but effectively utilized stage serve to bring this sad and touching story, one that is as much a family drama as it as a historic study, to life.
Page Purgar’s portrayal of Helga, Eva’s strong mother who makes the ultimate sacrifice and who gracefully handles more pain than any person should ever have to endure, is utterly heartbreaking in its accuracy, and her real-life daughter’s portrayal of young Eva is impressive, ranging from humorous to emotionally complex as the script demands. Laura Bess Jernigan also turns out a solid performance in her role as the bitter and confused Faith who ultimately just wants a connection—with her mother and herself. The strong performances throughout allow Samuel’s intricately interconnected storylines to play out to their full effect, and the result is a show that, for all its unanswered questions, feels wonderfully complete.
Yandle boldly deals with the challenge of a small space and two storylines taking place in different times and locations—young Eva’s story moves from her bedroom in Germany to her bedroom in England to a series of train stations, while adult Evelyn’s story plays out in an attic—by barely separating the two locales, a choice that further reinforces the direct impact that every past choice has on the characters’ present lives.
Samuel’s play is emotionally intense,—indeed some scenes, such as Eva’s reunion with Helga, are almost unbearable to watch because of their hard-hitting impact—and her characters often make choices that are difficult to understand, but she has created a living, breathing play with living, breathing characters, and this production does her writing justice.
Big Wig Productions and Burning Coal Theatre Company present KINDERTRANSPORT at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 21-23, and p.m. Nov. 24 in the Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.
BOX OFFICE: 919-753-6626 or http://www.etix.com/.
SHOW: http://burningcoal.org/kindertransport/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/363510620439040/.
“WAIT TIL YOU SEE THIS SEASON”: http://burningcoal.org/secondstage/.
Big Wig Productions: https://www.facebook.com/ABigWigProduction.
Burning Coal Theatre Company: http://burningcoal.org/kindertransport/ and https://www.facebook.com/burningcoaltheatrecompany.
Kindertransport (1938 rescue mission): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kindertransport (Wikipedia).
Kindertransport (1993 play): http://www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/Book/664/Kindertransport.html (Nick Hern Books), http://www.dianesamuels.com/index.php/theatre/kinder-transport (play page on the author’s website) http://www.dianesamuels.com/index.php/theatre/kinder-transport/author-notes (author’s notes) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kindertransport_%28play%29 (Wikipedia).
Diane Samuels (British playwright, born 1960): http://www.dianesamuels.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diane_Samuels (Wikipedia).
Brian Yandle (director): https://www.facebook.com/brian.yandle (Facebook page).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.