HANA'S SUITCASE by Emil Sher, directed by Allen MacInnis (Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People, 165 Front East). To October 19. $15-$20. 416-862-2222. See Continuing, page 90. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Hana's Suitcase is even richer on second viewing. Emil Sher 's play, adapted from Karen Levine 's children's book, has been revived by Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People as part of a national tour.
It begins in 2000, when two children at the Tokyo Holocaust Centre look at a suitcase from Auschwitz and wonder who its owner, Hana Brady, was. They and their teacher finally track down Hana's brother George in Toronto; he recounts his family's history and, by extension, that of other Jews under the Nazis.
The detective-story first act focuses on the Japanese characters piecing together facts about Hana, who early on stands silent, often surrounded by anonymous masked figures.
Only in the second half do she and her family speak, as we learn their story through narration and acted-out scenes.
Playwright Emil Sher and director Allen MacInnis do a marvellous job of blending the two time periods. Sometimes the Japanese children ask a question and someone from the 40s story answers, while on occasion the two sets of characters inhabit the same space, giving the narration an elastic and dramatic vitality.
The play also raises powerful questions for adults, such as how much to tell children about an event like the Holocaust.
The writing and staging wouldn't have nearly so much power without a strong cast. Jessica Greenberg gives heart, humour and anger to Hana, who died at 13 in Auschwitz, while Paul Dunn complements her beautifully as the young George. Their warm scenes together are some of the production's finest.
There's also good work from Helen Taylor and Eric Trask as their parents, and Richard Binsley as various others in their lives. Dale Yim , a source of energetic comic charm as the literal-minded Akira, is nicely balanced by Ella Chan 's practical Maiko. But Jo Chim , as their teacher Fumiko, is better at narrating the play's second half than capturing the character's emotions in the first.