Regional Reviews: St. Louis
And there are three mom-aged actresses holding it all together like Super Glue throughout. Michelle Hand is Evelyn, seeing her daughter off into the modern world, going through boxes of kitchen things the younger woman might need, in grown-up London. Running in parallel, Kelly Weber is a German mom in 1938, sending her 9-year-old off to England to escape the Holocaust. And Kristen De Broux plays the British woman in-between, taking in little Eva before the German government can send her off to the concentration camps with her parents. She's managed to fill herself with the no-nonsense wartime sensibilities of the day, though eventually it wears on her too.
The whole cast is great: Hannah Ryan as the German girl who grows up with a great can-do attitude; and Katy Keating completing the undulating rhythm of women's roles as that frustrated British daughter in the present day, growing impatient over a lot of blank pages in her own mother's past. Brian J. Rolf is the lone man on stage, showing the corruption of border guards just as smoothly, as he calms Eva down on a British dock once she arrives safely in Englandand he returns in another official capacity when she comes back day after day looking for her birth parents. Take out three or four moments of frantic (often surprisingly complex) heartbreak, and that's my favorite scene: young Ms. Ryan on the dock, full of simple, childish certainty, blissfully unaware of world events.
Deanna Jent directs, and casting Michelle Hand as the present-day mom holds the action together at several pivotal moments: What might have been a loose hodge-podge of mother-daughter collisions becomes an unexpected treasure of emotional depth and meaning. When past and present intertwine in a private moment, the whole show is exposed as one of those "graves in the woods" mysteries, where secrecy becomes the greatest survival skill, and the simplest actions take on the most unusual meaning.
More and more theaters are discovering Kelley Weber's gifts as an actress, and as Helga she begins as a young mother trying to prepare her daughter for a life without her. Later, when everything is torn to bits, she becomes the only actress in town who could carry this strange burden so perfectly. The secrets behind Helga's eyes can never really be put into words, though here we understand completely.
Through September 4, 2016, at Fontbonne University's black-box theater. For more information visit www.mustardseedtheatre.com.
Designers & Crew