Chicago Critic, April 13, 2008

Inspirational mystery unfolds the life of a Jewish child during the Holocaust

By Tom Williams  

Under Sean Graney’s energetic direction, Hana’s Suitcase is the true story of what happened to one little girl among the 1,500,000 Jewish children killed in the Holocaust. This inspirational story spans cultures, continents and generations. It is designed to put a face on a monumental tragedy that all the world’s children need to know about. Chicago Children’s Theatre, with help from Facing History And Ourselves, have produced a compelling story that children 10 years old and up will be able to understand. Graney and adapter Emil Sher have walked that fine line between presenting too much upsetting details and withholding the truth about what happened to Jewish children in Eastern Europe during World War II. The following events are true:

In March 2000, a mysterious suitcase arrived at the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource center from Poland, bearing the name “Hana Brady.” Japanese students: the precious 11 year old Akira (Allan Aquino) and the wise beyond her years, Maiko (Stephanie Kim) are intrigued about learning what happened to Hana Brady (Greta Honold). Their teacher, Fumiko (Mia Park) is also determined to learn more. Over the next weeks, she travels to the Eastern Europe to solve the mystery of Hana Brady. Who was she? Is she alive? What happened to her? The play is told through the eyes of the Japanese children. It offers an insightfully fresh look at the Holocaust. We see how Hana, her brother George (Levi Holloway), and their family lived in a resort town in Moravia near the Polish border. We see how Hana and George move from innocence toward adulthood as the German’s invade their country. We learn that progressively terrible things happened to the Brady’s simply because they are Jewish. The Japanese children, especially Akira, want to know all the details about the Brady family. Graney uses fast paced scenes to depict the cruelty of deportation to the camps with enough realism to be effective. The children will understand what is happening.

We see that Hana attended art classes at the Terezin camp under the direction of famed instructor Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. She instructs the children to paint what they wished their world to be. A trunk filled with these drawing was discovered in 1945 including several by Hana Brady.

We see George Brady emerge from a child to a caring adult determined to shelter Hana from trouble. When Fumiko learns the George survived and now lives in Canada, she contacts him to learn about the Brady family. He writes a detailed letter to her explaining what happened. Upon his visit to Tokyo, Akira and Maiko greet him with a poem and a play about his family.

This painful look into the past is educational and inspiring for children. The lessons learned and the hopeful tone for the future brings out the compassion children naturally feel. This tasteful play will reach children 10 and up. Kudos to Chicago Children’s Theatre for selecting this important work. Take your kids to see this show and be ready to answer their questions on the ride home.