Corrine Koslo (left) and Jennifer Dzialoszynski play Eva/Evelyn at different stages in her life in Kindertransport.
KINDERTRANSPORT by Diane Samuels, directed by Christopher Newton, with Corrine Koslo, Patricia Hamilton, Nancy Beatty, Anthony Bekenn, Jenny Young and Jennifer Dzialoszynski. Presented by Harold Green Jewish Theatre at Al Green Theatre (750 Spadina). Previews Tuesday (November 4), opens November 6 and runs to November 23, Monday to Thursday and Saturday 8 pm, matinee Tuesday to Wednesday 1 pm and Saturday 2 pm. $32-?$52. 416-?366-?7723.
Mother and daughter: arguably the strongest human bond.
But what happens when your mother sends you away from home and another woman takes you in?
That's the situation facing young Eva in Diane Samuels's Kindertransport. Eva's one of 10,000 Jewish children sent by their German parents to safety in England just before the start of the Second World War.
Taken in by Lil, Eva at first cannot forget her German family but eventually becomes assimilated, changing her name to Evelyn and doing her best to forget the past. Decades later, when her own daughter questions Evelyn's history, that secret explodes and changes the characters' lives.
"Eva knows that something's wrong when Helga, her biological mother, sends her to England," says Jennifer Dzialoszynski, the Ryerson grad who plays Eva. "When she arrives in Lil's house, she's still hanging onto Helga but soon starts to develop a practical forgetfulness.
"There's a huge survivor guilt that Eva carries, too, for her family is in Germany and she doesn't know what's going to happen to them. Initially she doesn't speak English and can't understand what people are telling her, yet she tries to please everyone: tries to get her family back, tries to please these new people who are looking out for her, and always tries to remain safe and secure."
All that pressure has its effect on the older Evelyn, given the memories she's buried and the truths she's kept from her own young daughter, Faith.
"All through the play there's a hint that Evelyn goes off the edge," offers actor Corrine Koslo, the Dora-winning actor seen most recently in Black Comedy and The Real Inspector Hound. "She spends much of the play in the attic, a place of safety and emotional retreat, because there's the lurking fear that, even years later, she'll be sent back."
Ironically, that's where all her history is stored, in boxes filled with a past she'd rather ignore.
"She doesn't consciously isolate herself, but that's what happens to those with unbalanced traumas in their lives; what they hide from haunts them and eventually smacks them over the head with a big stick."
Filtering through the emotionally layered story is the Ratcatcher, a German fairy-tale figure we know as the Pied Piper. Here, he's malevolent, a shapeshifter who haunts both Eva and Evelyn.
"He can take any form, travel through walls and sees everything you do," explains Dzialoszynski, who's onstage for most of the play as she makes the transition from Eva to the young Evelyn.
"He's the train you travel on as you leave home, the Nazi guard who inspects your suitcase and even your own mother, returned from the past.
"It's monumentally devastating for Eva that he can appear in the form of the person she's most loved and grieved for."
Kindertransport is both a mystery that slowly shares its secrets with the audience and a memory play in which several time periods occur simultaneously.
"But its real strength comes from the examination of several mothers and daughters," says Koslo. "Struggles of love and caring are mirrored in those different relationships, and even the betrayals are done with the best of intentions.
"When honesty finally surfaces, it doesn't mean that everything's instantly okay. The relationship between Evelyn and Faith still has some scar tissue, and it'll take a while to smooth that away."