‘Kindertransport’ opens Mustard Seed Theatre’s 10th season

From left: Kelley Weber, Hannah Ryan, Kirsten DeBroux, Michelle Hand and Katy Keating rehearse for Mustard Seed Theatre’s upcoming production of ‘Kinder-transport.’ 

BY PATRICIA CORRIGAN, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Deanna Jent, artistic director of Mustard Seed Theatre, first read Diane Samuels’ play “Kindertransport” many years ago, and it stayed with her. 

“It’s a story about mothers and daughters, and I am both, so it appealed to me,” Jent said. “When I looked at it again last year, what struck me is that it’s also a story about identity, and that’s an issue we all continue to navigate.

“How does our heritage affect who we are and how we navigate in the world? What does it mean if we choose to identify as one thing or another?”

In the current political climate, that theme felt especially relevant to Jent, and she decided to open Mustard Seed Theatre’s 10th anniversary season with the play. “Kindertransport” opens Thursday, Aug. 19, and runs through Sept. 4, with evening and matinee performances at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre. 

“Kindertransport” is about a program started by the British government to transport children to safety after the pogroms in Germany and Austria late in 1938. In the next year, almost 10,000 children, most of them Jewish, were sent to live with strangers in another country. 

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“What a decision that must have been, to send your children away,” Jent said.

In the play, a couple send their daughter on the train to a family in Manchester, England, hoping that eventually they will be able to reclaim her. Over time, the girl becomes Anglicized. When the English family learns that the Nazis have killed the girl’s parents, they adopt her, and she is baptized in their church. 

“Gradually, her new life shuts away the memories from her past,” Jent said. “Years later, the girl’s grown daughter discovers her mother’s background. It’s not an easy story, but the questions it raises are good.”

Jent, 53, who is directing “Kindertransport,” teaches undergraduate and graduate theater classes at Fontbonne, where she has worked for 21 years. She is not Jewish, though she has directed several plays for New Jewish Theater, including “Women’s Minyan,” “My Name is Asher Lev” and “Broken Glass.” 

The cast of “Kindertransport” includes Kelley Weber and her daughter Hannah Ryan, as well as Michelle Hand, Katy Keating, Kirsten DeBroux and Brian J. Rolf. 

“Kelley is one of Mustard Seed’s founding artists, and her daughter Hannah, who is 17, has been acting for eight or nine years,” Jent said.  

When Jent spoke with the Light, rehearsals for “Kindertransport” had just begun. 

“The play operates in flashbacks and dream sequences, so right now we are laying it out chronologically and working on text,” Jent said. 

A German teacher and dialect coach were on hand to help with German passages and the accent required for scenes in Manchester.

 “It’s going well,” Jent said. “We have a great cast and good energy.”

Good energy and loyal audiences have brought Mustard Seed Theatre to its 10th anniversary season. A decade ago, Jent hoped to start a company that would produce plays about faith and social justice and to offer internship opportunities to theater students at Fontbonne.

A valued colleague discouraged her, saying there was no audience for such a company. Jent disagreed. One day later, she got a phone call from a Fontbonne alum that offered financial support for any new projects Jent might have in mind. Jent jumped at the chance and founded Mustard Seed. 

“It seems hard to believe that it’s been 10 years,” Jent said. “The most rewarding thing has been building relationships with people who came to see shows the first year, came back the next year and brought friends and have continued to come. We’ve built an audience, but also a community.”

 

Performances of “Kindertransport” on Aug. 25 and Sept. 1 are “Pay What You Can/Pay With A Can.” Admission will be a canned food item or financial donation. Food items will be sent to Our Lady of Blessed Calcutta Food Pantry in Ferguson. For information on the company’s full season, see mustardseedtheatre.com.