Kindertransport by Diane Samuels is being presented by Sandy Spring Theatre Group at the Arts Barn in Gaithersburg in partnership with the City of Gaithersburg. The play is produced by Jerry Callistein and Evelyn Renshaw, and is directed by Bill Spitz.
The plot revolves around a young girl who is sent at the beginning of the Holocaust to England as part of what is called the Kindertransport (German for children’s transport). About 15,000 children left Germany and Austria from 1938-1940 to go to England via the Netherlands and Belgium until the Germans captured those two countries. Parents were left behind. There were groups in England that helped find placement (usually foster homes, but sometimes work farms) to house the children. Some of the older children became servants and as they reached adulthood, some served in the armed forces or worked as nurses. Many tried to reunite with their families after the war.
This tale about nine-year-old Eva (Sophia Anthony) is unique. Eva is so young, and her foster parents have their own children, but the foster mother, Lil (Jill E. Goodrich), eventually becomes a surrogate for Eva’s mother Helga (Becca Sears). It is how Eva deals with her feelings of loss, abandonment, and fear that makes her story so special. Fear to Eva is personified by the Ratcatcher (Pied Piper of Hamlin) who rounds up all the children in the village and takes them away from their families. Eva loved the story as a child, but as an adult hides it in a box in an attic with other memories of her early childhood. It is only when Eva, now Evelyn (Mara Bayewitz) has to interact with her own now adult daughter who is leaving home that these memories are exposed. Her real feelings and the truth about her former life are released.
Anthony is a warm and touching Eva who we watch deal with heart-wrenching pain as she leaves her family behind to travel by herself to a country where she does not speak the language. We feel her grief as she comes to the realization that her old life is gone forever and the fate of her family is now under the control of a monster. It is her fear, however, of being a German Jew in a world where that stigma could have you interned or killed, that is the driving force in her decisions which she makes when she is still a teenager. Anthony’s scene with her biological mother in Act II will bring tears to your eyes.
Bayewitz straddles the line between making Evelyn at times callous and other times torn by her guilt. Like many Holocaust survivors, she suffers from untreated PTSD and never fully recovers. She is never really able to find happiness in her life.
Sears’ portrayal of the Jewish mother trying to be strong and making the hard decision to have her only child go so far from home alone is a standout. We see her later ravaged by the Holocaust, and probably surviving the camps to see her Eva again, only to find Evelyn who does not want to be part of her biological mother’s life anymore.
Jill Goodrich’s Lil is very middle-class British. The Brits kindly took in these children but many of the foster homes never opened their hearts like Lil does for Eva. However, she seems content to allow the now teenage girl to give up her heritage and never tries to keep avenues open to the girl’s Jewish culture. That makes it very easy for Eva to give up her past and become part of the family. Goodrich makes us like her but also wonder what Lil’s motives really are. Is she just being good-hearted or is Eva filling a need for her as well? The absence of any real references to her own children (past and present) is telling.
Leah Packer plays Faith, the eighteen-year-old daughter of Evelyn. There is much love between the two but both actresses let us see there is a huge gulf between them. Packer conveys anger, disbelief and, finally, understanding to her mother.
John Van Eck plays several roles including a very sinister Ratcatcher. His anti-Jewish SS border guard, English postman and train station guard are purposely similar.
Spitz’s directing brings out the best of his actors. He certainly understands the themes of this play. He allows the audience to draw their own parallels to today’s refugee plights.
The small stage is sparsely set with just some chairs, a large trunk and several boxes by Set Designer, Bill Brown. Joe Connor did a more than proficient job lighting this set. The costumes by Stephenie Yee reflect the times and the personality of the characters.
I have been fortunate in my life to have met many Holocaust survivors, including one who was part of the Kindertransport. This lady is probably now in her late 90s. I believe she would have been upset with Eva, but would have also understood her better than those of us who have lived our entire lives in a free society.
Kindertransport is an important play to see whether you know about these children or not. It will allow you to see that the result of how we treat any children fleeing persecution spans generations and that mark, good or bad, reflects our own humanity.
Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with one intermission.
Kindertransport performs through September 23, 2018, at Sandy Spring Theatre Group performing at the Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, call (301) 258-6394 or go online.
Note: The play is close to selling out. So, make sure you get your tickets as soon as possible. Also, leave extra time to park and walk to the theater. Parking is not easy to find and is limited.