“Memo to American Relief Team: No force will be used in the reparation of DPs (Displaced People), particularly when it comes to unaccompanied children…” The southern American border 2019? No, Germany 1946, American occupied zone; our “clean-up process.”
The Camp Director is exhausted, stressed. She talks to herself. “Drink?… No, coffee…no, chocolate!” Europe is on the move, filled with exiles and orphans looking for a home, some returning to places they’ve never seen before. Her responsibility is the children. “What am I supposed to do with them…what do I know about children?!”
“Nothing could prepare us…death factories…and the children come…and then begins the arduous task of discovering what happened…” The capable woman is so tightly wound, helplessness and horror so close to cracking determination, she has a (credible) tremor. Some detainees leave in the night. Relatives are found to take others. Then there are those who dream of coming to The United States.
Out of a truck tumble three strangers, ages 12, 14, and 16. Each of the boys had attached himself to an army unit and become company mascot. Clothed in adjusted surplus, fed at mess, shown movies, given jobs, they spent years emulating Americans.
The Tall boy is about 16. He’s Czech but judging by speech, might well have been born and raised in Tennessee. Sure that a motor pool chief will adopt him, Janushe aka Johnny, is content to respectfully wait for papers and passage. When promises were made, the Director assures him, officer Charlie undoubtedly believed them, but there’s an impediment…beyond bureaucracy. Anyway, “It’s not up to us.”
The middle one, a cynical Polish boy, smokes, echoes the streets of Brooklyn and has a chip on his shoulder worthy of a slum punk. He intends to cut and run. The youngest, called Anzio for where he was found, is Italian. His parroted voice lies “somewhere between Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and Elmer Fudd.” Anzio has no plan.
What happens to each/what each makes happen is the story.
Playwright Simon Bent has crafted a tight, evocative chronicle as sadly relevant today as it was when the short story was written. His portrait of the Director is nuanced and compelling.
Tandy Cronyn zips back and forth between the boys’ distinctive accents with masterful precision. Expressions morph, gestures are bespoke, a cigarette is in the right hands. The actress inhabits every persona, never self-conscious or rushed. Her Camp Director, a strong woman in a heartrending situation, could not be more empathetic. And oh, her face!
Director David Hammond has done a wonderful job with characterization, transition, pacing, and stage business, not a jot of which looks false.
Kathryn Rohe’s costume is just right.
Cover by Justin Curtin; Other Photo by Trix Rosen
United Solo presents
The Tall Boy by Simon Bent
Based on The Lost by Kay Boyle
Developed and Starring Tandy Cronyn
Directed by David Hammond
410 West 42nd Street