Before World War II, thousands of Jewish children were sent from Germany to foster families in England to save them from Nazi concentration camps. Diane Samuels 1993 play, Kindertransport, focuses on one childs traumatic journey and how it changed her life forever.
The staging at Burning Coal Theatre by A Big Wig Production proves a challenge to its first-time director, but several strong actors and a devastating climax make it a worthy, moving experience.
The script overlaps scenes of past and present. One story line follows 9-year-old Eva, sent by her mother, Helga, on a frightening trip to live with foster mother, Lil. The other, set in the 1980s, begins in an attic with Englishwoman Evelyn offering her daughter, Faith, items for her new apartment. When Faith comes across some hidden letters, Evelyn stonily refuses to explain them.
Evelyns mother, Lil, tries to calm things but eventually must tell Faith that Evelyn is the young Eva. The haunting revelations that follow show the extreme damage the separation of parents and children can cause.
Mary Rowlands Evelyn makes a believable transition from reserved bitterness to near-derangement when confronted with traumatic truths. Page Purgars Helga reveals the depths of hurt under her forced cheerfulness, while Laura Bess Jernigan astutely tempers Faiths anger toward Evelyn with growing understanding. As the teenage Eva, Maggie Flaugher rightly conveys her rejection of the past.
Marleigh Purgar McDonald confidently speaks young Evas many lines in German, broken English and then proper English, although sometimes too rapidly for total clarity. Sharlene Thomas has moments of wit and warmth as both younger and older Lil but too often speaks quietly and casually, slowing down her scenes. Eric Morales plays a handful of characters with appropriate variety but sluggish pacing.
Director Brian Yandle has a feel for the subjects gravity and emotion. But Thursdays opening was uneven, with actors awkwardly negotiating the luggage-strewn set. Lighting cues often left them in the dark, repeatedly lowering the requisite tension.
Samuels script takes longer than necessary to establish plot points, but its gripping payoff is served well enough by this companys first effort, which should jell over its run.