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Kindertransport
by Diane Samuels
Directed by Deanna Jent
Mustard Seed Theatre
August 19, 2016

Kelley Weber, Hannah Ryan Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Kelley Weber, Hannah Ryan
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed Theatre is embarking on its 10th Season staging quality thought-provoking theatre in St. Louis. Its latest production, Kindertransport, is a fictionalized tale inspired by real historical events. It’s an exploration of mother-daughter relationships and the development of individual identity as a result of life-changing circumstances. At Mustard Seed, it’s a fascinating drama featuring some truly outstanding performances.

The play gets its title from a real historical program, in which thousands of children, most of them Jewish, were transported out of Nazi Germany and given shelter with families in England. As mentioned in the playwright’s introduction printed in the program for this production, this particular story is fiction, although it was written as the result of extensive research and interviews. The story here is a representation of elements of various stories playwright Diane Samuels was told. The story she has written portrays two parallel stories–one that starts in Germany in the 1930s and one that takes place in late-1970s Manchester, England. The England story features three generations of a family–Lil (Kirsten De Broux), her daughter Evelyn (Michelle Hand), and Evelyn’s daughter Faith (Katy Keating), who is having trouble deciding whether she wants to move out of the house and live on her own. Concurrently, we also meet nine-year-old German Jewish girl Eva (Hannah Ryan) and her mother Helga (Kelley Weber), as Eva prepares for her trip to England via the Kindertransport. Helga loves her daughter dearly, but insists that she learn to take care of herself and hopes that she will be safe in England and that they will one day be reunited. Eva’s story then continues as she travels to England and meets her host family, and as she deals with her fears, her homesickness, and the distrust and suspicion of some of the locals. As these two stories unfold simultaneously, the link between the “present” and the “past” stories eventually becomes clear, and although it’s fairly easy to predict as the story progresses, I won’t spoil it here. It’s a fascinating, believable story that is best seen for itself, and it’s remarkably staged here.

The six-person cast is uniformly excellent, led by the truly extraordinary performance of high school senior Ryan as Eva. As the character who grows and changes the most throughout the production, and as the central figure in the story, casting in this role is key, and Ryan is remarkable, portraying the transition from the inquisitive but scared young girl to a conflicted teenager with much energy, heart, and incredible stage presence. She is the heart of this production, but everyone else is impressive, as well, from De Broux’s kind, supportive Lil to Weber’s devoted, determined Helga, to Hand’s secretive but resilient Evelyn, to Keating’s curious, strong-willed Faith, to Brian J. Rolf’s portrayal of various roles from a stern Nazi officer to a helpful postman to a suspicious train station guard. All the performers work well together, with excellent ensemble chemistry and believable relationships, especially between the various mothers and daughters. Profound emotion is clearly apparent here, from hope and fear to, especially, love, all portrayed convincingly by this extremely strong cast.

¬†Visually, the production is also stunning, with a detailed two-level set by Kyra Bishop that represents primarily the English house but also serves as an ideal backdrop for the various locations as the story plays out. The costumes by Jane Sullivan are impressively detailed, as well, reflecting the times and characters and their changes well. There’s also excellent use of lighting by Michael Sullivan and clear sound design by Zoe Sullivan. Kudos also to vocal coach Nancy Bell and German language coach Marlene Rene Coveyou for helping the cast members achieve convincing Northern English and German accents.

Kindertransport is a compelling personalization of history. Taking a profound and traumatic personal experience and highlighting the importance of mother-daughter bonds, this story is remarkably portrayed and presented on the Mustard Seed Stage. Showcasing the top-notch cast and particularly the talented Hannah Ryan in a memorable performance, this is a show that is sure to provoke much thought and conversation. It’s an important and fascinating piece of theatre.

Katy Keating, Michelle Hand, Kirsten De Broux Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Katy Keating, Michelle Hand, Kirsten De Broux
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Kindertransport is being presented by Mustard Seed Theatre at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre until September 4, 2016.

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