Stage One's production connects kids with World War II in a respectful, smart way.
For 65 years, Stage One has found connections with children. Working in correlation with schools' curriculums, Stage One Family Theater hosts younger-focused plays that give life to lessons the children learn in class. For the next month, that lesson will revolve around the Newbury Award winning book, Number the Stars.
The story of Number the Stars follows the young Annemarie Johansen where, in 1943, the presence of Nazi soldiers in Denmark begins to deeply affect her life as they put increasing and terrifying pressure on local Jews, particularly her best friend Ellen Rosen.
As I have never read the book, my main curiosity remained how the play could present such a serious and horrible event as the Holocaust in a way that children could understand it. Through the work of the script, adapted by Dr. Douglas W. Larch and the pointed, uncondescending direction by Andrew D. Harris, I believe that they present a story that will open up a healthy conversation with children about history.
There are many great things to say about a play that so carefully presents this devastating tragedy. Never resorting to dumbing-down or aggressive offense, instead it plays up the feeling of tense disorientation. The actors involved do a wonderful job putting the audience in the shoes of a child trying to understand the Nazi occupation. To the script's credit, truth is withheld from the actors and the audience, and we can only sit and wonder with the wild imagination and discomfort of the young. That said, it teaches along the way. It gives children a primary view of history, politics, struggle, and redemption. I also truly appreciate the emphasis given to young Jewish Ellen Rosen about how she had done nothing wrong in being Jewish, and she should never feel bad about being herself.
Through charming acting, the three main young girls give a sweet, involving portrayal of girlhood friendship. While all the cast performed laudably, Madison Cunningham as Ellen, Mckinley Carter as Igne Johansen, and Graham Pilotte as the main character Annemarie turned this production into an immersive and heartfelt experience. I should also note the set design which, through its minimalist approach, folds you into the action. Only a few logical script problems and a partially jarring soundtrack distracts from the overall presentation.
After the show ended came one of the most compelling things about this Stage one series. Every student showing features a meet and greet with the director and cast, and my public showing was treated to a question and answer session with them. According to director Andrew D. Harris, about 22,000 students will see this show as it plays through March 9th and then at Indiana University Southeast until March 16th. I find it very uplifting that so many children will learn this story, but also have the chance to discuss it with those that brought it to life. Truly, this play and this production are great gifts to local schoolchildren.
Top Photo: Courtesy of Hannah Wemitt, Stage One Family Theater
Slideshow Photos: Peter Allen Clark