Young People's Theatre opens their celebratory 50th anniversary season with their touring, timeless classic, Hana's Suitcase. Based on Karen Levine's children's novel, adapted by Emil Sher, Akira (Jeff Ho) and Maiko (Lisa Truong) are on a mission to discover the personal story of Hana Brady (Caroline Toal), an orphan victimized during the Holocaust. With the help of Fumiko (Jennifer Villaverde) from Tokyo's Holocaust Education Centre, the children work to construct the missing pieces of Hana's story, beginning with her suitcase.
For a show with dark undertones and themes, the cast is certainly colourful. With a touring cast of eight performers, the ensemble transforms to stay relevant while delicately displaying atrocities of the past.
As the show is meant for younger audiences, director Allen MacInnis keeps the historical message vivid while appropriately exposing one of history's darkest moments. We fear for Hana and hope for Akira and Maiko. The exaggerated personas of the children and adults work tremendously well at keeping younger audiences engaged and interested in a weighty story of looming terror and hopeful curiosity.
My only major critique for this piece resides in the closing. There is a significant amount of sensitive detail being intricately dealt with from curtain to close and yet audiences are left with an obnoxious ending. It almost felt as though the previous eighty-five minutes were easily erased with the shouting and awkward presentation from Akiro. Volumes would have rang louder with the greeting and appreciation of George Brady (Noah Spitzer). If there was room for purpose in this closing scene, the entire show would have benefited from an alternative ending.
Set and Costume Designer, Teresa Przybylski utilizes all aspects of the stage to transport us through multiple settings. The faceless masks worn by the ensemble during oppression scenes were effective in isolating the aspect of multiplicity and religion as prime identity, a very chilling feature. Andrea Lundy's lighting design was utterly intense with the use of projected shadows and blue scenarios of doom and fear.
Despite the inconsistency displayed in the ending, Hana's Suitcase brings light and closure to a difficult past with an important message. After their Toronto run, audiences across Canada and the U.S. will be reminded of, and enlightened by, the power of history and imagination.
Hana's Suitcase runs to Oct. 30 on the MainStage of Young People's Theatre. For more information on the upcoming touring production or to buy tickets, visit www.youngpeoplestheatre.ca.