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Creighton theatre prof Klem to take final bows with 'Kindertransport'

Eighty years ago, in an act of desperation, Jewish parents living on the European continent sent their children off across the English Channel to relative safety as war approached and Nazi Germany pressed on toward its Final Solution that would mean the murder of 6 million Jews.

The Kindertransport, in which foster families in Great Britain adopted Jewish children, saved 10,000 young lives, and became one of the few symbols of hope in the blackening firestorm of the Holocaust. In 1993, British playwright Diane Samuels penned Kindertransport, examining the life of one of those children, now a woman, spared by the massive mobilization and now trying to make sense of it for herself and her own British-born daughter.

Feb. 13 through 17, Creighton University’s Fine and Performing Arts Department will stage Kindertransport in the Studio Theatre. It will be the Omaha-area debut for the production.

“We’re all really excited about this play,” said theater professor Alan Klem, MFA, who will direct. “It’s a unique play in how it’s staged, an interesting story that many people might not be fully aware of, an intriguing bit of history.”

The play opens with 9-year-old Eva (played by Clara Hawkins) bidding farewell to her parents in Germany and making the trek to Manchester, England, where she comes to live with the Miller family. Not speaking the language and initially clashing with her foster mother, Lil (Marissa Galardi), Eva eventually bonds with the foster family and begins pursuing a new identity. Eva becomes Evelyn (Allexys Johnson), acquires British citizenship, and ultimately bids adieu to her Jewish roots.

Faith (Kathleen Watz), Evelyn’s adult daughter, ultimately discovers letters revealing her mother’s traumatic past and begins to compel the story from her.

“It’s really the story of the effects of separation from one’s own parents and what kind of an impact that has for generations,” Klem said. “What does that do to a parent? What does it do to a child?”

The play takes place over nearly a half-century and instead of flashbacks, characters like Eva’s mother, Helga (Kelsey Jones) and the child and teen versions of Eva (Charlotte Higgins) come onto the stage as the present-day action unfolds. As Evelyn confronts the horrors of her youth with Faith, the 9-year-old Eva, lingers in the shadows, visible only to Evelyn.

The Ratcatcher (Tyler Means), a darkling element haunting the entire production, is also hanging at the periphery of the story, needling Evelyn.

“It’s a challenging play that way,” Klem said. “The scenes are very emotional and involve people who are not always understanding one another, talking past one another, trying to come to grips with something as devastating as the Holocaust. The cast has totally committed to it, though, given that story and the importance of those memories and that history.”

The cast of seven also learned British and German accents, as well as some German turns of phrase, to accurately portray the characters.

Kindertransport will mark Klem’s final production as a Creighton faculty member. He will retire at the end of this academic year after a 40-year affiliation with the University, dating back to an invitation to direct productions in 1979.

In that time, Klem has directed more than 40 productions at Creighton, and about 50 productions when he includes his work as a founding director of Nebraska Shakespeare and at other local theaters. He’s had thousands of students, some of whom have gone onto theatrical careers in New York and Los Angeles.

A high point for Klem came in 2003 with the production of Lewis and Clark Part One: Manifest Destiny, a musical collaboration with Creighton’s Fred Hanna, PhD, and the Rev. Don Doll, SJ. Written and staged to coincide with the centennial of the Lewis and Clark Voyage of Discovery, Klem said he’d like to see if it might have wider cachet. He’d also be open to guest direction or other projects the Department of Fine and Performing Arts might have.

“While it’s time to move on to other things, I’ve truly enjoyed my time at Creighton,” Klem said. “I look forward to seeing what continues to happen here.”

Kindertransport will show Wednesday, Feb. 13 through Saturday, Feb. 16, at 7:30 p.m. in the Studio Theatre at the Lied Education Center for the Arts on the Creighton Campus. A 2 p.m. matinee will take place on Sunday, Feb. 17. Friday night’s performance will conclude with a panel discussion with educators from the Institute for Holocaust Education.

Tickets are $5 for students and Creighton faculty and staff, $15 for seniors and $18 for general admission. To reserve tickets, click here or call the Creighton Box Office at 402-280-1448.

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