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Stage Reviews

It’s all for the best

Simply put, “Kindertransport” is a first-class theater ticket.

It all comes together on the Santa Monica Playhouse stage — acting, directing, writing and production, with lessons ably taught in history, psychology, parenting and general tolerance.

The Kindertransport put 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children on trains in 1939 Germany, sending them out to nations where hopefully they were to find physical safety. At what price? It depends on whom one asks. Some believed it saved European Judaism. Some of the “Kinder” — the surviving children — never recovered from the trauma of being wrenched away from their parents.

Kindertransport follows one such Kinder, Eva, as she is sent from her upper-class, intellectual German home to the kind arms of an Englishwoman.

Playwright Diane Samuels has scripted a focused, balanced, absorbing and instructive play. She says just enough, leaving clues for those who want them and a clean storyline for those who don’t.

Director Chris DeCarlo provides perfect staging. Past and present merge effortlessly; train stations and comforts of home are clearly delineated, actors give enough but never too many “clues” to their thoughts and personalities.

Exquisite ensemble acting, as well as marvelous casting, enhances the connection among the characters. Tamar Shaham portrays the young Eva with depth and on-target strength, maturing appropriately and becoming more “English” as the play progresses.

Molly Cheek plays Evelyn, the oh-so-English adult Eva with suppressed memories and projected fears. Heather Ross is Faith, Evelyn’s daughter, frustrated by her mother’s emotional distance.

Evelyn Rudie gives Eva’s mother, Helga, a loving, elegant portrayal.

Diane Turley Travis plays Lil, Eva’s sympathetic English mother.

John Waroff takes on multiple roles as The Ratcatcher — sometimes a quietly poisonous Nazi soldier, sometimes a better-behaved but ultimately xenophobic British officer.

Sound design by The Attic Room is big-theater quality. Lighting and set design by Christopher Beyries, solo flute by Bruce Escovitz and costume design by Ashley Hayes augment the production.

The play’s too-abrupt ending, its only major flaw, could be softened.

“Kindertransport” runs through June 27 at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica. Tel. 310.394.9779.

The body politic

“A Thousand Souls” seems to have the best intentions at its heart. It tries to teach us to learn from history, to respect our heritages, to give peace a chance.

Somehow, these lessons can’t make it past the figurative footlights.

Playwright Jovanka Bach calls this world premiere, playing at the Odyssey Theatre, the second in her trilogy about the Balkan peoples.

In this segment, Michael, a 20-something spoiled California boy, has promised his mother on her deathbed that she will be buried in her native Sabor, Slovenia. As they play begins, he is about to accompany her body, and his father unwillingly accompanies him. On arrival, Michael clashes with the ways of the old country.

The Muslims have taken over the cemetery, proclaiming that no more Serbs will be buried there. Michael’s relatives pull out their weapons and leave the house to shoot the enemy.

After his interaction with the charms of this nation, he softens, wanting to become a better man, asking, “Dad, where can I start?”

The characters speak self-consciously and illogically. The script has Michael, a young American banker, uttering the line, “A longer wait would be intolerable.” Uncle Goyko says of an assasinated Muslem, “Akret has gone too far.”

Choppy scenes broken by long pauses for scenery changes keep the action from gaining emotional momentum. In particular, instead of mourning with Michael, we watch stage hands carry his mother’s coffin on and off the stage.

The acting is sometimes forced, but it’s hard to know whether the writing, direction or actor’s choices have caused this. Michael is always in too much of a hurry, the script tells us, so of course his every entrance is charging and breathless.

If the relatives are speaking in the Serbian language and Michael is trying to speak with them in their language, why does he speak without an accent and the relatives speak with one?

Directed by John Stark, the cast consists of Loren Davidson (who has a wonderful stage voice), John DiFusco, Edith Fields (focused and sharp on her cues), Christopher Franciosa, Cathrine Grace (who creates a wonderful physicality for her character), William B. Jackson, Jack Kissell, Zale Morris, Alexander Wells (in a refined portrayal of the haunted monk — perhaps the focus of the next play in the series?) and Rebekah Williams.

“A Thousand Souls” plays through May 2 at Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. (north of Olympic), West Los Angeles. Tel. 310.477.2055.

13StarsManager
13StarsManagerhttps://malibutimes.com
The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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