Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Kindertransport is a moving play that offers an intimate exploration of the profound impact of a large-scale event on one child, while intricately weaving between the past and present. Order Chaos Theater Company's production features a fantastic cast who expertly unravel the emotional complexities of the play's characters.
In a short pre-show video segment, clips are shown from a Zoom call last month between the cast and Margot Lobree, who was one of the Kindertransport children. It's an excellent way to introduce the play and to show how the past informs the present and, as Lobree says, that "freedom is the most valuable thing in life."
The plot follows nine-year-old Eva who undergoes the heartwrenching experience of being separated from her German mother and being forced to embark on a perilous journey to Manchester, England. The play skillfully unfolds Eva's transformation as she forges a loving bond with her adoptive British mother, Lil. The story spans forty years, revealing the enduring impact of Eva's past on her relationships, particularly how the bond between mother and child can often be both strong and fractured.
Samuels intricately weaves together a plot that follows characters from the late 1930s with ones from several decades later. The script and dialogue show how Eva deals with her feelings of loss, abandonment, and fear, which makes her story so poignant and heartwrenching. Fear to Eva is personified by the Ratcatcher (similar to the Pied Piper of Hamlin) who rounds up all the children in the village and takes them away from their families. When the book is later found to be hidden in a box in an attic, it stirs up memories of the past and forces the characters set in the later scenes to face decisions that were made in the past. It's an interesting and intriguing memory play that also dives into the fears, insecurities, and memories of its characters.
In the capable hands of co-directors Mark-Alan C. Clemente and Jean-Paoul C. Clemente, the staging of the play navigates its unique structure with simplicity. The Clementes' set design uses several platforms, boxes and various items to evoke a cluttered attic, and the subtle changes in their lighting design seamlessly shift the focus from the scenes set in the 1930s to those set many years later. Ducati Camacho's costumes are excellent period-perfect and character-specific designs. The video projections by Jeff Martini are fairly solid, with images of the attic and repetitive visuals that evoke the ominous atmosphere of the Ratcatcher.
The script requires a nuanced understanding of the pains of trauma and the strength found in resilience, and under the Clementes' sure-footed direction, the cast deliver on all fronts, offering compelling and realistic depictions of the characters' inner struggles. Delaney Carne and Olivia Feldman share the role of the young Eva, with Carne playing her as a youth and Feldman as a teenager. Both young women derive remarkable, moving performances with their German and English accents and phrases seeming very natural. Amy Garland as the middle-aged Evelyn, crafts a fascinating and emotionally charged character, conveying with authenticity the repression, grief, and torment the character feels. When memories of the past come to haunt Evelyn through the discovery of a long-forgotten box, the emotional baggage she has carried throughout the years comes to the forefront in a fully fleshed-out performance from Garland filled with anger, denial and pain.
Donna Kaufman shines as Lil, Eva's adoptive English mother, injecting warmth and kindness into the role. Jennifer Gantwerker's portrayal of Helga, Eva's birth mother, is poignant, revealing pain, loss, and emotional scars. Iliana Swartz impresses as Faith, Evelyn's daughter, capturing the character's assertiveness and the complex mother-daughter dynamic. Jeff Martini is appropriately creepy as the Ratcatcher and the few small male roles in the play.
Kindertransport is a poignant exploration of the lasting impact of wartime decisions on individual lives, how the past impacts people who believe they've put it behind them, and the sacrifices one makes to survive. Order Chaos Theater's production features rich performances of this thought-provoking narrative which results in a profound and emotionally resonating theatrical experience.
Kindertransport runs through January 21, 2024, at Order Chaos Theater Company at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe Street, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.orderchaostheater.org.
Directors: Mark-Alan C. Clemente and Jean-Paoul C. Clemente