Review: "Korczak's Children"

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Think of “Korczak’s Children” by Jeffrey Hatcher as a sort of “Child’s Introduction to the Holocaust.” Hatcher, familiar to Columbus audiences from local productions of “Three Viewings,” “Murderers,” and “Scotland Road,” introduces us to the Polish-Jewish author, pediatrician and educator Janusz Korczak, who presided over an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto. Korczak’s educational philosophy centered on respecting children as individuals, promoting their rights and treating them like adults.

Hatcher’s gentle play pays children the same courtesy, both in giving each orphan a personality and in conveying the seriousness of the situation to the audience in grown-up terms. The historical Korczak, when given the opportunity to abandon his charges and escape being sent to the Treblinka concentration camp, chose to go and perish with them in 1942.

In what turn out to be the last few days of the orphanage, the children are busy rehearsing a production of “The Post Office,” a play by the Bengali Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. The theme of the play-within-a-play serves as an allegory of the situation in which the orphans and adults find themselves.

Todd Covert personifies the humane and selfless doctor and teacher with humor, heart and dignity. His rapport with the children feels genuine. In this Gallery Players production, the range of talent among the nearly two dozen children is marvelous to behold, from the mutually infatuated Eva (Claire O’Shaughnessy) and Marcel (Aaron Shatz) to the constantly bickering Little Hannah (Noga Eitam) and Big Hannah (Leora Hazan), from the junior smuggler Adek (Neil Kalef) to the heartbreaking Geina (Claire MacDonald). Rebecca Portman gives passionate life to the former resident of the orphanage, Esterka, who has gone on both to teach and to join the Polish underground.

When tiny Geina pauses at play’s end to glance back at us before closing the orphanage door, the whole audience, child and adult alike, knows her fate.

Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus

Through Sunday, Dec. 21

1125 College Ave., Bexley