Patricia Hamilton (left) and Jennifer Dzialoszynski embark on emotional trip.
KINDERTRANSPORT by Diane Samuels, directed by Christopher Newton (Harold Green Jewish Theatre). At Al Green Theatre (750 Spadina). To November 23. $32-$52, stu $15. 416-366-7723. Rating: NNNN
In the late 1930s, an operation known as Kindertransport moved thousands of German Jewish children away from their families to safety outside the country.
Diane Samuels's play focuses on one such girl, the fictional Eva, whose story of distress, abandonment and love involves the lives of several generations of mothers and daughters.
Sent by her mother, Helga (Nancy Beatty), to England, Eva (Jennifer Dzialoszynski) is taken in by the kindly Lil (Patricia Hamilton) but never loses her childhood fears. Turning her back on her past and changing her name, the grown-up Evelyn (Corrine Koslo) must face suppressed memories when her own daughter, Faith (Jenny Young), learns of her mother's history.
Director Christopher Newton seamlessly navigates the play's time shifts - events in different periods are staged simultaneously in Cameron Porteous's set, a box-and-memory-strewn attic - and his cast pulls at our emotions with equal expertise.
Dzialoszynski, onstage for most of the play, moves from baffled to scared and then independent child, never able to shake her sense of desertion and guilt even in the security of a modest English life. Dzialoszynski's skilfully changing accent shows Eva's progress to Evelyn. Koslo is the believable child-become-adult, locked in an emotional cell partly of her own making and unable, literally, to find air to breathe in it.
The pair are at the centre of the play, but there's equally fine work by Hamilton as the no-nonsense protective foster parent, physically and vocally different in the play's two time periods, and by Young as the demanding daughter, a sometimes self-righteous truth-seeker who believes she knows what's best for her mother. Beatty's most involving scenes are the last ones with her daughter.
Anthony Bekenn plays several male figures, all versions of the nightmare-inducing Ratcatcher from Eva's childhood tales.
The show has a few flaws, including unnecessary background projections and an abrupt, inconclusive ending, but Kindertransport movingly examines the thorny ties between parent and child and the difficulty of unravelling a traumatic past.