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The play “Kindertransport” doesn’t have to try hard to be relevant.
Today’s headlines about family separation echo back to events in the play only decades ago.
In 1938, the British government authorized a rescue effort called Kindertransport (Children’s transport). Individuals and religious and secular groups conducted the effort, which saved some 10,000 children under 17, most of them Jewish, from Nazi Germany.
Parents sent their children out of the country, knowing they might never see them again; many perished in the Holocaust. The children’s experiences were varied – but they were alive.
The play in question, by Diane Samuels, is fictitious, but draws upon several real stories of children who were in transports.
Through flashbacks, “Kindertransport” presents the hardships faced by a child named Eva at three different stages of her life: as a nine-year-old child sent on a Kindertransport and taken in by a British family; Eva at 17, now assimilated and completely anglicized; and Eva, now in her 50s and known as Evelyn, whose daughter, Faith, confronts Eva and forces her to acknowledge her unspoken past. Evelyn exists in contemporary times.
“Kindertransport” is the upcoming production of Sandy Spring Theatre Company.
Mara Bayewitz, portrays the adult Evelyn in a cast of six.
“This is the most-challenging role I ever did,” she said. “Evelyn is as far from being me as any human being that I ever played.”
Both as a person and as a therapist, Bayewitz said she “doesn’t live in denial or withholding love.” Evelyn, in contrast, is “definitely devoid of a therapist’s skills” and “lives” there.
“Her closing herself up emotionally, passing judgment and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) – these feelings are foreign to me,” Bayewitz said.
Evelyn is also the most dramatic role she has played, the actor added. “Some shows linger in people’s minds.” “Kindertransport” is one of those.
Aside from the play’s merits, there’s another reason the Arts Barn, the production’s venue, was enthusiastic about presenting “Kindertransport” this season – the fact that this year marks the 80th anniversary of the rescue effort.
Bill Spitz also finds special meaning in “Kindertransport.” Back in 2004, he suggested that Sandy Spring produce the play, which the theater group did.
At the time, he was one of the performers. Now, he’s directing.
“The play is so unbelievably well-written, with an emotional impact,” Spitz said. “I don’t show emotion easily, but doing it bought tears to my eyes and a lump in my throat.”
There are challenges, however. The past takes place in the mind of the audience; people appear in holograms, then fade away.
Even though trains played a critical role in the transports, they don’t appear on stage. Rather, sound and lighting effects convey them.
Each actress in the show plays only one role, although the same performer, 16-year-old Sophia Anthony, portrays Eva at the ages of 9, 15, and 17.
“For a teenager to play a nine-year-old can present a challenge, but I am fortunate that Sophia is a seasoned actress, serious about her role and taking direction well. Also, having a 10-year-old grandson, I’m not without experience interacting with that age group,” said Spitz.
Challenges and all, there are many compensations.
I loved the script and loved doing it as an actor, and I felt extremely comfortable directing it,” Spitz added. “The parallels to what’s happening to immigrant children today are unbelievable. To tell the story now is very important.”
The balance of the cast consists of: Becca Sears, John Van Eck, Leah Packer, and Jill Goodrich.
Next Sandy Spring Theatre Group presents “Plaza Suite,” by the recently deceased Neil Simon.
Spitz directed Bayewitz years back in Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs.”
“Kindertransport’ runs Sept. 15-16 and 20-23 at the Arts Barn, 311 Kent Square Rd, Gaithersburg. For information, visit: sandyspringtheatregroup.weebly.com.