Montreal Gazette’s Kathryn Greenaway previews Hana’s Suitcase: “After seeing the play I hear them ask their parents how something like (the Holocaust) could happen. They are indignant. I think that is wonderful.” – Allen MacInnis, director
Read on Montreal Gazette’s website: Hana’s Suitcase returns to Geordie Productions for milestone season
Kathryn Greenaway – November 5, 2015
Fifteen years ago, a battered old suitcase bearing the name Hana Brady, her age and the word “waisenkind” (German for orphan) sent a group of inquisitive Japanese students on a quest to find out everything they could about its owner.
The true story behind Hana’s Suitcase launches Geordie Productions’s 35th season, at the D.B. Clarke Theatre, Nov. 6. The critically acclaimed production is performed by the Toronto-based Young People’s Theatre as part of its 50th anniversary season.
Hana Brady, a Czechoslovakian Jew, was put to death at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1944. She was 13 years old, one of more than 1.5 million children who died during the Holocaust.
In 2000, Japanese schoolteacher Fumiko Ishioka was organizing an exhibition for the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Centre. The Auschwitz Museum lent her some artifacts. One of those artifacts was Hana’s shabby suitcase.
Her students became fascinated by the suitcase and began to hunt for more information. Their research determined that Hana had an older brother, George, who had been liberated from the concentration camp at age 17 and settled in Toronto.
They sent a letter asking to meet with him to learn more about Hana.
The meeting between George Brady and the students from Japan resulted in a CBC Radio documentary and a best-selling book by Canadian author Karen Levine. The true story was adapted for the stage by Emil Sher and is directed by Allen MacInnis.
“What (Emil and I) found compelling about the story was that it was children who were so determined to find out what they could about that one little girl,” MacInnis said.
The stage version has the two stories unfolding in parallel, beginning with the students launching their research — a detective story of sorts. Hana’s story follows.
“Because we put the detective work first, the audience gets to experience the discoveries along with the students,” MacInnis said. “They learn about the one little girl and they learn about the larger story” of the Holocaust.
The play debuted in Toronto 10 years ago with George Brady and Ishioka in attendance. When it came to Montreal for the first time in 2007, Brady and his daughter Lara-Hana were in the audience opening night.
How audience members react to the play depends on their points of reference. Hana’s disappearance at the end of the play is handled subtly, but her destination is not lost on the adults in the audience.
“When we began rehearsals (for this run) after so many years of not doing the play it took the cast days before they could get through it without a river of tears,” MacInnis said.
But the children don’t cry.
“They become very quiet,” MacInnis said. “They become engaged emotionally with Hana because they react instinctually to the injustice. After seeing the play I hear them ask their parents how something like (the Holocaust) could happen. They are indignant. I think that is wonderful. They will carry that emotion with them as they grow older.”
MacInnis said that because the story leads to dark places, Sher made sure to highlight a pact made between the teacher and the students before they began their research.
“She told the children that if their search led them to a place of deep sadness, they would find a way out of it,” MacInnis said.
It was also important to George Brady that the subject matter be treated with care.
“He wanted the play to speak of hope for the world,” MacInnis said.
AT A GLANCE
Based on the recommendation of people who have experience talking to children about the Holocaust, this play has been rated suitable for children 9 and older.
Geordie Productions presents the Young People’s Theatre in Hana’s Suitcase, at the D.B. Clarke Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., Nov. 6 at 7 p.m., Nov. 7 and Nov. 14 at 2 p.m. and Nov. 8 and Nov. 15 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. There will be an American Sign Language (ASL) performance of the play Nov. 7 at 2 p.m. For reservations, call 514-845-9810 or visit geordie.ca.