Free play an emotional and timely look at the immigrant experience

In the year before World War II broke out in earnest in Europe, the British government established a policy that allowed for 15,000 Jewish children to flee Nazi-controlled territory to find relative safety in U.K. foster homes, schools and other housing. This effort to evacuate these children was known as the Kindertransport (German for “children’s transport”), and it likely saved most of their lives; often, these children were the only survivors of their families.

Contributed by Rod Machen

British playwright Diane Samuels’ 1993 play “Kindertransport” examines this story of survival through the lens of Eva, a German girl who is taken in by a British foster mother named Lil. The play is an intense exploration of Eva’s experience integrating into her new family and life, as well as the aftermath of her experience as she attempts to live a normal life as an adult in England in the 1970s.

The story is deeply moving, but perhaps not in the way one might expect; the play focuses much more on Eva’s experience as an outsider in Britain rather than exploiting the emotional well of horror and sorrow that one often finds in works about the Holocaust.

A new production of “Kindertransport,” co-produced by Trinity Street Players and Austin Jewish Repertory Theater, could not be more timely. As a deep exploration of the immigrant experience, and the ways in which it is a heartbreaking test of the self rather than any sort of free ride, the play clearly holds contemporary relevance. However, the producers and director certainly couldn’t have known that the show would premiere the same week as migrant caravans, consisting largely of children seeking safety from government oppression, are all over the news.

As such, though “Kindertransport” is certainly emotional, the dominant feeling I came away with was rage at the fact that this is still such a pertinent story for 21st century America, whereas a production two years ago would have left me feeling sorrowful over Eva’s wrenching experience.

That experience is portrayed with nuance by Jessica Cohen and Taylor Flannigan, as Young Eva and Teen Eva, respectively. Each of them excels at portraying Eva’s internal conflicts as she adapts to British culture. Cohen, in particular, turns in a remarkable performance that combines youthful naïveté with an inner core of strength and sorrow as she confronts very adult concerns. Director Jim Lindsay excels at creating quiet, emotional scenes between Eva and her foster mother, Lil (played by Laurie Coker), as well as flashback scenes with her German mother, Helga (played by Laura Galt).

With its emotional content and painful relevance, “Kindertransport” is not an easy show to watch, but it is a necessary exploration of how events unfolded historically so that we can — hopefully — learn how to keep them from reoccurring.

“Kindertransport”
When: 8 pm. Thursday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through April 29, with additional 8 p.m. show April 11 for Holocaust Remembrance Day. Holocaust Remembrance Day pre-show talks at 7:30 p.m. April 11-12.
Where: Trinity Street Players’ Black Box Theater, 901 Trinity St.
Cost: Free, but reserve tickets online
Information: trinitystreetplayers.com

For now, Austin Opera opts to go without an artistic director

After firing Artistic Director Richard Buckley for alleged misconduct, Austin Opera has opted to go without a leader in that position for the 2018-2019 season.

ALSO SEE: Richard Buckley fired from Austin Opera.

Instead, General Director and CEO Annie Burridge has appointed Tim Myers, most recently artistic and music director of North Carolina Opera, as the Austin outfit’s artistic advisor.

Myers, who has overseen world premieres at top spots such as Houston Grand Opera, will also conduct in Austin the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Silent Night,” based on the 2005 film “Joyeux Noël,” which reimagines the famous Christmas Eve truce during World War I. Hometown hero Kevin Puts wrote the music.

The European Premiere of Kevin Puts’ ‘Silent Night’ at the Wexford Opera Festival. Contributed

SEE THE SEASON: How Austin Opera got its groove back.

Austin Opera has drafted two other conductors to lead the more traditional operas. Steven White, whose credits span the North American continent, will take over the baton for “La Traviata,” which concludes this season, and “Otello” next season. Peter Bay, music director for the Austin Symphony, comes to the rescue next season for “La Bohème.”

A fifth opera, “Soldier Songs,” by David T. Little, will mix video, rock, opera and theater to tell the stories of veterans of five wars as part of the nontraditional Opera ATX efforts, first tried at the Paramount Theatre.

“We are honored to have Timothy, Steven, and Peter contribute their extraordinary talent to our company,” says Burridge. “In the coming months we will share our plans to select our next permanent artistic leader, and we look forward to engaging our audience and musicians in that process.”

‘I and You’ puts a thoughtful and poetic spin on life as a teen

“I and this mystery, here we stand.”

These words, from Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself,” are among the first lines uttered in Lauren Gunderson’s tight, funny, dramatic play “I and You,” now in a new production from Capital T Theatre and running through April 14 at Ground Floor Theatre. Anthony, the boy who first quotes the line, says it as he stands before Carolina, a classmate into whose room he has just intruded. Carolina has been home sick from school because of ongoing complications with her liver, and Anthony is there to work with her on a project about Walt Whitman.

Contributed by Capital T Theatre

This simple premise unwinds over the 90-minute run time. The play is neatly divided into three scenes that show the progression of the teens’ Whitman presentation as well as the development of their friendship. Just as Whitman used the medium of poetry to express a multitude of highly personal thoughts about a country and culture on the verge of splitting itself in two, Gunderson uses the medium of humorous dialogue between these two characters to express the realities of teen life in the fractious, social-media-obsessed 21st century.

Capital T’s production is a part of the company’s annual New Directions program, which “offers a young director with no professional credit the opportunity to direct a full-length play and bring a fresh new voice to Austin theater while getting paid.” This year, that director is Simone Alexander, who has crafted an intimate, intensely youthful piece alongside a talented cast, with Kenah Benefield as Anthony and Mia King as Caroline.

Much like Whitman’s poem, “I and You” rambles in subject and tone, but it constantly returns to a playful manner that underlies the discussions of serious issues, ranging from death to disease to the nature of being open and honest with oneself (and with others). The vast majority of the play eschews any narrative bells and whistles, instead focusing on the two characters’ thoughts, feelings and growing friendship. Alexander approaches the text in the same way, giving her two stars plenty of room to command the stage.

ARTS IN AUSTIN: Read the latest news and reviews

King and Benefield have an electric chemistry, one that is believably antagonistic, romantic and platonic, sometimes all at the same time. The deeper that their conversation — and thus their relationship — gets, the more they ratchet up the intensity through subtle tonality and physicality. What’s most impressive is their ability to convincingly portray high school students, poised on the cusp between childhood and an adult world that both intrigues and frightens them. Gunderson’s text resists the urge to delve into traditional stereotypes, and so do Alexander and her two actors.

In a time where teenagers are making their voices heard in the loudest possible public arena and showing us that they have what it takes to lead our country into the future, it is more important than ever to see that kind of intelligent, composed and articulate (yet still frequently confused and self-conscious) teen represented in our media. By creating a deep, soulful connection between two nuanced and troubled characters, poised on the brink between hope for the future and despair, “I and You” provides us with a vision of what it looks like to “sing” and celebrate the self even as it argues that nobody should have to sing alone.

“I and You”
When: 8 p.m. April 6-7, April 9 and April 11-14
Where: Ground Floor Theatre, 979 Springdale Road #122
Cost: $20-$30
Information: capitalt.org

Austin’s Armstrong Community Music School founder Margaret Perry dies

Margaret Perry, founder of Austin’s Armstrong Community Music School, died Thursday morning of pancreatic cancer at age 66.

Margaret Perry with students at the Armstrong Community Music School. Contributed

“A phenomenal loss,” said Austin philanthropy leader Mary Herr Tally. “This one hurts.”

Perry stepped down as director of the school, formerly associated with Austin Opera and named for humanitarian James Armstrong, who died last year, in October after learning of her diagnosis.

RELATED: Benefactor James James Armstrong has died.

“Margaret was an amazing person who took the school to heights James and I never imagined,” said Larry Connelly, Armstrong’s surviving husband. “James was always so proud to have his name associated with such a great organization.”

“Her imprint will be forever on the Armstrong Community Music School, the staff that followed her vision wholeheartedly, and the faculty that shared her mission of service and excellence,” said Rachel McInturff, the director of the school’s finance and administration. “Her wisdom guided many. Her laughter uplifted all. She will be deeply missed.”

Perry originally trained as a harpsichordist and played with various baroque music groups. She served for several years as pianist for Houston Ballet. Although she taught piano privately for decades, she was know to the larger arts community as lecturer and arts educator.

Perry served on numerous boards of directors before and after the founding of the Armstrong School in 2000. At the time, it was the only American community music school established by an opera company. She one numerous honors and was inducted into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame in 2012.

Jeff and Gail Kodosky, Laura Walterman, Austin Gleeson and other benefactors have established the Margaret Perry Endowment Fund which has already attracted $200,000 and is managed by the Austin Community Foundation.

A memorial concert at a time to be determined will feature music only, no speeches or photos, followed by a reception.

This is a developing story. Check back for more details.