theatre reviews
Volume 16/Issue 22

by George Patterson


Between Germany's 1938 Kristallnacht and 1939's invasion of Poland and the onslaught of WWII, some 10,000 children, offspring of Jews, Gypsies and other undesirables, were permitted to leave the country by train and then boat, without their parents, for a safe haven in Great Britain. Their parents never followed them-most succumbing to the Holocaust.

A 1993 play by Diane Samuels, called simply Kindertransport, focuses on the trials and tribulations of one of these displaced children, and was recently given its Southern premiere at the Contemporry Arts Center by first-time producer Cathie Weinstein, with decidedly mixed results.

Eva, the young girl who makes the trip from her home in Hamburg to that of one Lil Miller of Manchester (Lois Crandall), is played by two actresses. One, Megan Langhoff, is Eva as the "kinder" who is transported; the other, calling herself Evelyn, Joan Blum, is Eva as a very, very conflicted adult having hysterical mother/daughter problems with her grown daughter, Faith (Courtney L. Bailey) and her stepmother, Lil, who has reared her as a Christian and encouraged her to change her name, and thus her identity. By adulthood all traces of her German heritage have been erased, until her daughter finds the truth in the attic of their home, where the action unfolds.

Even though the play weaves the past with the present in many different settings, designer John Grimsley created a unit set that evoked this attic in which the past and the present intermingled, sometimes to confusing effect, as actors from different times almost collided with one another, lit in a most garish red/pink/orange light.

Among the souvenirs stored in identical cardboard boxes in the attic, are letters written to Eva/Evelyn by her mother, Helga (Hope Weiss) who was not killed in the Holocaust, and the three items she brought with her, a harmonica, a Haggadah and a book about the Pied Piper of Hamelin, or the "Ratcatcher," who lured the children out of their homes and into an "abyss," which the attic and, by extension, England are meant to represent.

Faith discovers the box. Its contents are proof that her mother has not told her the truth about her young life and her own heritage. The daughter is genuinely upset. She's not a gentile, but a Jew. Her step grandmother, Lil, has no real defense for having encouraged Eva to change her identity-a change which has obviously conflicted this family for some time. The strife comes to a head when Evelyn tears up the contents of the box, thus destroying the proof of her past and her daughter's heritage. After the truth is finally unveiled and digested, one hopes this trio of unlikable women will find some common ground on which to co-exist.

The play itself is most at fault in delivering a catharsis interruptus-it has really no place to go after divulging its facts about this little-known aspect of WWII.

Director Grimsley spent most of his time, and money, as designer with several overly theatrical flourishes that seemed to overwhelm the earnest work of his cast, giving his directorial ministrations short shrift.

Still, young Megan Langhoff's Eva spoke in three dialects, none of them very clear, from outright German, to a heavy German accent to a proper British-a difficult assignment this young actress pulled off brilliantly. Lois Crandall, Courtney L. Bailey and Hope Weiss delivered acceptable performances while Ms. Blum ranted and raved and generally chewed the heavy scenery to little effect.

Another directorial flourish doing little to illuminate the play was the use of music as rendered by four unseen child musicians who were not of the Midori Ito variety. Although their contribution was also earnest, it did little to add to the pace of the proceedings.

The only male in the cast, Bob Edes, Jr., listed in the program as "Ratcatcher," also played a German SS, and an English Postman with professional aplomb.

Samson et Dalilah

The New Orleans Opera Association began its season of four powerhouse operas with the least dramatic of the quartet. For his only attempt at the opera genre, Saint-Saens used a libretto by Ferdinand Lemaire based on one of the Bible's most compellingly dramatic stories of the mighty Hebrew warrior who is brought down by the cunning, and lethally beautiful Philistine Dalilah, who discovers the secret of his strength-his hair-chops it off, turns him over to the evil High Priest of Dagon who has him blinded and made to grind grain while being tormented by the populous. After his hair grows out and his strength returns, Samson pulls down the temple and kills all the people, himself included. There's action aplenty in this story, but Saint-Saens, best known for his symphonic compositions, and hobbled by the libretto, keeps most of the action offstage. Instead, he wrote a melodic, gorgeous oratorio that works as an opera only when accoutred in Biblical costumes and opulent scenery; and, when a director utilizes invention in animating the enormous chorus that must occupy the stage in both the first and third acts. Director Nando Schellen chose a conservative approach--conservative almost to the point of stasis. In the most dramatic of the three acts, Dalilah's ultimate seduction and Samson's emasculation, set in her bedroom, the director's indifference to the picture he is creating for the audience is palpable. Samson lies on the bed with his head lost upstage while he gives the audience the ultimate "box" shot. The scissors Dalilah uses to shear his tresses are barely discernable and the act itself is over before one realizes what is happening. Likewise, there is literally no invention in animating Carol Rausch's chorus, who stand static and unanimated through much of the opera (with the exception of the Act III dance, performed vivaciously by a sixteen member corps choreographed energetically by Joseph Giacobbe.) As Samson, Mark Lundberg has the youthful vigor and appropriate vocal ability, but was all but eclipsed by the fiery pyrotechnics of Irina Mishura-as good and beautiful a Dalilah as one would find in any part of the world. The third principal of the triangle, the High Priest of Dagon, added immeasurably to the musical excitement and Kimm Julian acquitted himself admirably as did Irwin Densen doing double duty as Abimelech and the Old Hebrew. The rented costumes delineated the two warring factions, the Philistines and the Hebrews, adequately, while David Gano's heavy styrofoam columns imparted a feeling for the period in skimpy, perfunctory style, allowing his lighting design to delineate the space, through the use of much smoke, to theatrical effect. Unfortunately, the penultimate destruction of the temple, wherein Samson pulls down the two styrofoam columns and "stuff" swiftly falls from the flyloft, was an unfortunate anticlimax to an evening of utterly correct, if uninspired, music led by conductor Pierre Hetu and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. Next up, Rossini's delightful comedy, Il Barbiere Di Siviglia, Nov. 11 and 14. BTW, the Krewe of Petronius has a number of Monday night dress rehearsal tickets available for the remaining three operas at only $20. a pop. Call 504.525.4498 or 504.528.9061 for these.

Krewe Of Petronius Presents
Pulitzer Prize Winning
How I Learned To Drive

How I Learned To Drive is a new play by out Lesbian playwright Paula Vogel, which won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in Drama and tells the coming-of-age story of a woman whose Maryland family has nicknamed Li'l Bit, and her incestuous relationship with her Uncle Peck.

The Krewe of Petronius in association with Southern Repertory Theatre, is presenting the Louisiana professional premiere production of this uniquely theatrical play at the theatre, 3rd Level, One Canal Place, Nov. 20 thru Dec. 13, playing Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00pm, and Sundays at 2:00pm. Tickets are $15. for Thursday and Sunday performances, $20., Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets may be purchased by calling 504.525.4498, 504.528.9061 or 504.861.8163 any time; 504.524.2558 Mon. - Fri., 9pm to 4pm; or from any Krewe of Petronius member.

Designed & Directed by George Patterson, the play stars Ron Williams as Uncle Peck, last seen as Daryl in True Brew's production of Ricky Graham's Daryl's Perils.... and Stacy Arton as Li'l Bit, with Maggie Eldred, Erika Hamburg & Jack Long as the Chorus, who play a number of roles in Li'l Bit's life. Stacy Arton and Maggie Eldred will be remembered for their many appearances at the old Theatre Marigny. They have also produced locally an evening of Tennessee Williams one-acts at Movie Pitchers in 1994. Erika Hamburg appeared in Mr. Patterson's productions of Reverse Psychology and Speed-The-Plow; and, Mr. Long was most recently seen in the CAC's production of The Heidi Chronicles. This will be his last local appearance. Graduating from UNO in Dec., he moves to NYC to pursue an acting career in January.

During the course of the 90 minute play we see Li'l Bit from the age of 11 to her present adult self, as she is carefully molded by her sly and extremely likeable uncle into an adult who is only now coming to terms with this dark experience in her life, an experience that has made her what she is. Uncle Peck also teaches her the rules of the road, both figuratively and literally. In short scenes, we see Li'l Bit interacting with her red neck family, her silly classmates, and, of course, with Uncle Peck, who falls hopelessly in love with his niece only to have her brutally jilt him in the end.

This is a unique, fast-paced play layered with humor and heart that will make you laugh and cry at the same time-and will probably make you think of your own sexual history.

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