By W. Derek Russell
TUPELO – Students at Tupelo High School in 2017 couldn’t be further removed from children in Czechoslovakia in 1939, but in the new play from the THS Theatre department, the students are learning more and more about them.
“The Ninth Train” tells the story of one family’s grave decision to stay together or separate to stay safe during perilous times.
“It’s based on the true story of a British soldier who set up kinderstransports to take children under the age of 18 to England,” said director Trisha Pate. “He ended up saving over 600 kids, but the families were conflicted with risking never seeing their children again and erasing their Jewish heritage to save their lives. This particular family has to make that decision.”
The Stern family children – played by Emma Witty, Emma Gousset and Chael Williams – all face the challenge of leaving everything they know behind for a chance at safety. Witty said it’s the most challenging part she’s ever had to play.
“I think we’ve tackled an issue that many people push to the side,” Witty, 17, said. “It’s an honor to play the character of Eva. She’s very relatable and I wasn’t expecting that. It’s been amazing to tell her story and the story of so many other Jewish girls that went through these struggles during this time.”
Emma Gousset, 17, said it’s an important show with a story that deserves to be told.
“It doesn’t try to shy away or hide from the situation, nor romanticize it,” she said. “It’s very honest and heartbreaking and I think it’s a true representation of that period in time.”
Pate said she chose the piece not only for its challenging nature, but also due to how close the friendships are between the students.
“It’s very heavy,” she said. “These students are so close together that they are already like family, so they make these scenes seem real with the ways they care for one another on and off stage.”
In December 2016, the cast performed “The Ninth Train” at the North Mississippi High School Drama Festival, winning six awards including Best Scenic Design, Best Actress, Peer Choice and two All-Star Cast Members. They’ll perform the show at Tupelo High School this weekend before taking it to Ocean Springs at the end of the month to perform at the Mississippi Thespian Conference.
“I have an extremely talented group who deserve to be challenged,” Pate said. “This show required cultural research, learning pieces of an entirely foreign language as well as the full cast singing and speaking in a dialect. They received a lot of positive responses from the adjudicators (in December) who were mostly impressed with their characterizations and their relationships, which is really hard for young actors to establish. I’m proud of them for that.”
In addition to “The Ninth Train,” the performance will also consist of music, monologues and duet scenes from Witty, Gousset and Williams as well as Connor Harper, Kendashia Smith, Sanders Higgins, Chera Jones, Anna Walker Davis, Shanna McCauley, Kenzie Dixon and Blake Harrell as a part of their thespian showcase.
The performances start at Tupelo High School today at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call (662) 840-1841.
DIM THE LIGHTS
• What: THS Theatre presents “The Ninth Train” and thespian showcase
• When: 7:30 p.m., today and Friday
• Where: Tupelo High Small Auditorium
• Tickets: $6
• Info: (662) 840-1841
• Cast: Connor Harper (Petr Stern); Emma Witty (Eva Stern); Kenzie Dixon (Hanna Stern); Chael Williams (Otto Stern); Emma Gousset (Analise Stern); Sanders Higgins (Edna Friedman); Shanna McCauley (Pavel Friedman); Blake Harrell (Marek Havel); Chera Jones (Mr. Kopecky); Karci Watson (Mr. Blazek); Anna Walker Davis (Ruza Havel)