Nov 09, 2009 — The Children's Republic has opened at the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa, running through November 22. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.
THE CHILDREN'S REPUBLIC by Hannah Moscovitch has an interesting history and powerful subject matter. It was begun as a project at the Ottawa School of Speech and Drama when Leon Gluzman, a benefactor of the school, told the students of his life in the orphanage of Dr. Janusz Korczak in Warsaw in the 1920s.
Dr. Korczak, a Polish-Jewish pediatrician, author and champion of children's rights, stayed with the children when the orphanage was forced into the Warsaw Ghetto in 1940, despite offers of safety. He remained with them when in 1942 the children and a dozen staff members were deported to the Treblinka extermination camp. The play tells not only of Dr. Korczak's efforts to protect the children, but also the effects of his care on six of the children.
Camillia Koo's costumes are good, especially the children's shoes. Her set is very creative - a contrast between spartan wooden straight-backed chairs and elaborately painted doors set upstage in a scrim. About twenty chairs are suspended behind the scrim at various levels, each containing a single object such as a teddy bear, a violin, or a potted geranium.
Jock Munro has lit the play beautifully and creates magical effects with his lighting of the suspended chairs. Marc Desormeaux has composed lovely music and has created a terrific soundscape, both of which are very effective. Nick Carpenter has done a fine job with the live music.
As for the cast, Sarah McVie is very good in multiple roles, especially as Helinka. As Stefa, Dr. Korczak's closest associate, Kate Hurman lets us see the warmth under her stern demeanor. She's particularly good in the photography scene.
Peter Froelich gives well-rounded performances in two different roles. We understand the two characters and their relationships to Dr. Korczak. As for Paul Rainville as Dr. Korczak, he can say more with a look than many actors can with a paragraph. He and Mr. Froelich are both fine actors and it's a treat to see them together.
The six children in the play do professional jobs. Hannah Kaya as Mettye comes the closest to a well-rounded performance, while Leah Morris as Sara is an excellent budding violinist. This is difficult material for healthy young Canadians. They're well trained and obviously understand it intellectually. However they're unable to understand and convey emotionally the fear and physical privation involved. It's a lot to ask.
Director Janet Irwin has done a fine job of directing and staging the play to maintain a flow with a script that often seems episodic. There's also too much we don't know. For example, what is the relationship between Stefa and Dr. Korczak? Are they married? Such questions need to be answered in the play, not the program notes.
This is good beginning for a play about a fascinating character. Dr. Korczak's ideas were adopted by the UN in the Convention of the Rights of the Child in 1989 and his orphanage is still in existence today. To quote the Dr., "Children are not the people of tomorrow; they are people today."
On a scale of one to five the GCTC/Ottawa School of Speech and Drama co-production of THE CHILDREN'S REPUBLIC gets four solar panels. For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.