HANA'S SUITCASE adapted by Emil Sher, directed by Allen MacInnis (Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People, 165 Front). Runs to April 27. $15-$20. 416-862-2222. See Continuing, page 80. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
After seeing his sister Hana at the Terezin concentration camp in 1944, George Brady would hear little about her until 2000, when a strange letter arrived from Tokyo. Someone had found Hana's suitcase.
Six years and one best-selling children's book later, everything George remembered about his sister has been brought to life in a charming, thought-provoking play for young audiences. Brady himself seemed to like it. He sat in the third row on opening night.
The story begins in Japan when Fumiko Ishioka ( Jean Yoon ), an educator at the Holocaust Education Centre in Tokyo, receives a suitcase marked "Hana Brady, orphan." Curious about Hana's story, Fumiko sets out on a journey through Europe in search of clues to Hana's past, and at the urging of her students writes the fateful letter to George, who lives in Toronto.
Hana ( Jessica Greenberg ) silently weaves in and out of their scenes on her scooter throughout the first act. The second act delves more deeply into her childhood in Chezchoslovakia, her internment at Terezin and, from there, Auschwitz.
Though the story captivates, two performers nearly break the spell because they fail to differentiate between acting a child and acting like a child. As Fumiko's students, Siu Ta and Richard Lee deliver most of their lines in the shrill voices of actors who haven't worked to discover their characters and rely instead on external actions turning their toes in, twirling their hair, acting hyper to do the job.
Greenberg, however, delivers a performance that kids will buy. She's a bit whiny, funny, playful and scared: so is Paul Dunn as Hana's brother, George. The similarity between Eric Trask 's elder George and the real deal in the third row couldn't be closer, right down to George's brown Clarks.
At a time when a Canadian book about Palestinian children may be banned from school libraries, Hana's Suitcase is a timely look into the ugliness that adults can commit against children and other adults by destroying their power to choose.
It's a strong testament to the forces that bring people together: imagination, curiosity and hope .