When you hear “children’s theater,” you might think of little shows about fairies and princesses, being performed by sixth-graders.
But BYU’s Young Company is different. Not only are all the performers grownups, but their current show, “Goodbye Marianne,” playing at BYU through Feb. 26 and touring to schools later, is about Jews living in Nazi Germany in 1938.
Obviously, The Young Company has great faith in the ability of children to empathize with real characters, and to be interested in things other than magic and Pokemon. (Last year, their show was about a boy with AIDS.)
The wonderful thing is, it really works. “Goodbye Marianne” speaks to children without pandering to them. While all the horrors of Hitler’s Germany are not discussed (this is 1938; the worst atrocities hadn’t happened yet), they are not glossed over, either. The main character is a little kid. The little kids watching her are little kids, too. They connect.
It helps that Marianne Kohn is played by Cyndi Ball with the aplomb, fear and spunk typical of children. Ball is a college student, but her Marianne is every bit a little girl, sitting on a bench marked “Aryans only” not out of defiance, but out of true childlike stubbornness.
The play starts with her and all other Jewish students being kicked out of the German schools. Her mother (played with reserved compassion by Laura Hoppe) tries to make things as good for her as possible, even while her father (Matt Biedel) has gone missing.
Eventually, Marianne is able to leave, thanks to the “Kindertransportes,” a system whereby 10,000 Jewish children were evacuated from Germany before the war started.
For children, who may not know much about Nazi Germany, the play offers a touching story about their fellow kids. For adults, it answers questions most of us never thought to ask before: What would it have been like to be a Jewish kid in 1938 Berlin? Would you go to school? Would you play with your friends? Would you have fun?
Hitler’s evil is a perfect contrast to the innocence of youth, and “Goodbye Marianne” is a sober and heartfelt reminder that there’s always hope for the future — and that our children’s purity is what gives us that hope.
This show was only 50 minutes long. I like that in a show. Maybe I should go to more children's theater, because I think my attention span is about as long as a child's.
I was in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with Cyndi Ball, but she had only a small part there, playing one of the fairies. I was glad to see her in a larger role, because she's just so darned adorable. And a good actress, too.