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Review: FOUR CHILDREN at Kansas City Actors' Theatre

A World Premiere Production drawn from the diaries of young victims

Review: FOUR CHILDREN at Kansas City Actors' Theatre
Cellist Eman Cholshotori seated downstage of a projection of children pressed against the barbed wire perimeter of the Auschwitz death camp.

The World Premiere production of "Four Children" has been brought to life by the Kansas City Actors Theatre on the City Stage inside Union Station as a minimalist, sadly shocking view of death and genocide on a number of levels. It is not to be missed during its several week run.

"Four Children" is sixty-five minutes long without intermission using a stage setting that consists of five chairs and five music stands, all socially distanced in front of a large projection screen. The screen is used only sparingly during the performance. The subject is selected genocides during the twentieth century.

Review: FOUR CHILDREN at Kansas City Actors' Theatre
Marisa B. Tejeda as Nadja Halilbegovich

The playwright has taken snippets from the diaries of four childhood victims of successful or attempted genocides. These murders occurred over nearly a century; 1915 (Armenia / Ottoman Empire), 1939-1943 (Poland during the Nazi occupation and Holocaust), 1975 (Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge period), and 1992 (Bosnia / during the Yugoslav civil wars). Their testimony is woven together paragraph by paragraph into a seamless, searing whole despite each being separated by decades and thousands of miles.

The times were different. The wars were different. The children cited here spoke only their native tongues. Yet, the English translations and the switching off speaking by the four cast members backed by the single, mournful, classical cellist from upstage center tell a single, unforgettable true life narrative. Genocides are not unique or unusual to these particular years or these countries.

Review: FOUR CHILDREN at Kansas City Actors' Theatre
Vi Tran as Armenian Vahraim Dadrian

The remarkable thing (speaking as a critic) is the way the audience is able to flip back and forth from Asia Minor to Central Europe to Southeast Asia to the old Soviet satellite states and back so smoothly. We are reminded that similar evil and motives live always among us. Alertness to the dangers must remain on guard; lest the bad guys gain primacy.

The four seated (or briefly standing) actors introduce themselves, yet make no attempt to become the preteen and teen victims they represent and voice. The actors are Victor Raider-Wexler (mostly for Dawid Sierakowiak (Poland)), Marisa B. Tejeda (mostly for Nadja Halilbegovick (Bosnia)), Vi Tran (mostly for Vahram Dadrian) (Armenia)), and Kathleen Warfel (mostly for Chanrithy Him (Cambodia). Our actors are mainly the story-tellers, albeit excellent ones.

This particular ensemble of actors is exceptionally strong with a special nod to Victor Raider-Wexler. We are fortunate to have this entire group.

Cellist Eman Chorlshotori sits upstage center in deep shadow and sets the mood. Music is selected and prepared by Michael Mermagen. Lighting is by Zoe Spangler. The lighting is spare, but in this case, just enough. Direction is by John Rensenhouse. Curation and additional materials are provided by Mark Edelman. Edelman is the just retired founder of the Broadway Theater League and the son of a Holocaust survivor.

"We hope patrons attending the Auschwitz exhibit will add "Four Children" to their Union Station experience," said KCAT president Gary Heisserer. "The play is especially important for young people to see and hear. It is their former peers-the ones who wrote these diaries-whose stories must never be forgotten."

Review: FOUR CHILDREN at Kansas City Actors' Theatre
Kathleen Warfel as Chanrithy Him

There is also a colorized, one hour documentary film on the Holocaust called "Auschwitz Untold in Color" being presented multiple times daily through the generous support of the Copaken Family Foundation at Union Station's Regnier Extreme Screen Theatre. across the rotunda from City Stage. Fieldtrip Groups to the Auschwitz exhibition will have the chance to add this movie at no cost to their visit.

"Four Children" was designed in support of the "Auschwitz-Not Long Ago-Not far away" exhibit showing through January at Union Station. Following January, the Auschwitz exhibit packs up, returns the artifacts from whence they came, with The Remains heading back to the Spanish company near Madrid that assembled it.

For the play, it is my hope that "Four Children," is expanded and finds additional audiences

Review: FOUR CHILDREN at Kansas City Actors' Theatre
Victor Raider-Wexler as Dawid Sierakowiak

outside Kansas City. Audiences should take advantage while it is still here.

How To Get Tickets

"Four Children" performs from October 7 through October 24, 2021 on the City Stage at Union Station. Tickets are available online at www.KCActors.org or by telephone at 888.343.6946.

Three of the four diarists survived their captivity to resettle in the United States. Dawid Sierakowiak died before liberation in 1943.

Photos courtesy of Kansas City Actors Theatre.

Regional Awards


From This Author - Alan Portner

Al Portner is regional editor for Broadway World – Kansas City.  He is a retired career journalist and media executive who has written for publication over more than 40 years. Portner ha... (read more about this author)


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