The Children’s Republic
October 11th, 2017
Review by Chad Jarvie-Laidlaw – Showbill.ca Editorial Director
Can one person keep the horrors of war from impacting another? Is it possible to remain a child, even when the world is collapsing around you? Hannah Moscovitch’s play The Children’s Republic explores those themes against the backdrop of the Warsaw Ghetto during the Second World War.
The Children’s Republic follows the final years of famed educator and children’s caretaker Janusz Korczak (disarmingly portrayed by Paul Rainville) as he runs his orphanage in the ghetto. With his eternal aide and companion Stefa (Kerry Sandomirsky), he encourages, teaches, and guides the children of his orphanage (Simeon Sanford Blades, Lily Cave, Sophia Irene Coopman, and Zander Eke) through the terrors of the ghetto, all while he attempts to safeguard their childhoods against the encroaching horror of the world.
Children’s Republic is tough stuff, and painfully relevant material. The impending destruction wrought by the Holocaust is omnipresent throughout the play: the sparse set demarked by chalkboard walls is transformed into a children’s prison, with chalk drawings of barbed wire and walls. The effect is haunting and brings a sense of barren isolation to the piece as a whole. A live violinist (Sari Alesh) plays between scenes and brings real heart to the interludes. As the play builds towards its inevitable conclusion, one feels hope for all the characters onstage, all while knowing what their fate truly is. The climax of the show is truly in its final moments, and leaves not a dry eye in the audience.
Structurally, the play does have some flaws. Scenes bounce about between hallways, the infirmary, an office, a classroom, the dormitory, and the roof, and never quite feel like they actually occur in a real physical space. In this, the stark set lets the action down, never truly transforming into any of the locations depicted. This also gives the young actors less to work off of, leaving their performances detached from the world around them. This lends the kids a sense of the unreal, which is further highlighted by how jarringly well-dressed and –coiffed the children are. While it’s true that Korczak saw to it that the clothes of all his wards were well maintained, it seems odd that they look like they’ve stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch advertisement.
The Bottom Line:
In spite of any structural or staging flaws, The Children’s Republic is a powerful piece of theatre. Touching, heartbreaking, and poignant, it shows the value of some of the best qualities of humans amidst the terrible suffering wrought by the worst.