Pomona College’s Seaver Theatre opens its season this week with the play Kindertransport. Written by Diane Samuels and first performed in the United States in 1994, Kindertransporttells the story of Eva (Roxanne Cook PZ ’13), a young German Jew who was one of 10,000 Jewish children sent away from Germany to sanctuary in England in the period of time preceding Hitler’s gruesome reign.
Set in late 20th-century Manchester, the plot weaves through the past and present. Scenes of Eva’s childhood in Germany, her journey to England and her subsequent assimilation into an English family are placed immediately before and after scenes of her in her adult life as her grown daughter discovers her mother’s past that had been kept a secret and seeks to reconcile fact with fiction.
Kindertransport is a poignant story about generational blame and guilt, feelings of anger and abandonment, the simultaneous yet competing needs for independence and belonging, and two women’s journeys toward and away from an identity rich in culture and history, though marked with scars of unthinkable persecution.
My complaint is that theater professor Betty Bernhard’s production was, in a word, misguided. Most obviously this manifested itself in distracting accents and in some kind of attempt at a full immersion theater experience that was more confusing than engaging. But those things can be forgiven; after all, we are, first and foremost, an academic educational institution with a focus on experiential learning and risk taking.
However, Bernhard has gone to great lengths to focus the audience’s attention on the nature of this work as “A Holocaust Play,” where really the Holocaust is only incidental to the meatier drama of the piece. The much more compelling line of action is found in the context of the various mother-daughter relationships featured in Samuels’ play. What should have been clear from the beginning, but sadly only dawned on me midway through the performance, is that this play is about those women, not about the Nazis. I think the actors and audiences alike would have been better served had these small familial themes been allotted more importance over the theme of the Jewish Holocaust.
That said, Bernhard should be applauded for her choice of such a gynocentric piece of theater, considering the wealth of female talent on campus. Indeed it is showcased in this production, with some very touching moments from each of the mother-daughter pairs and a performance truly fitting a senior’s thesis role from Cook. The staging is effective, and the set looks professional. And it is undeniable that subject matter pertaining to this particular time in history has a way of making you appreciate the life and liberty we have and respect those who sacrificed—family and non-family alike—for us to have it.
Kindertransport will be performed in the Allen Theatre at Pomona’s Seaver Theatre complex at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday night, and matinee performances will be at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $5 for the Claremont Colleges community and $10 for the general public. They are available at the box office located in the theater complex from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday and one hour before curtain.