Monday, December 11, 2017

The Children’s Republic offers new twist on powerful play

September 20, 2017 by Jennifer Wyatt, contributing writer

Paul Rainville has played Dr. Korczak in Hannah Moscovitch’s The Children’s Republic not once but twice, which makes it all the more surprising that he says he stumbled into it in the first place.

“I got to play him in Ottawa in a very different version of the play,” says Rainville. “The woman who was directing the workshop in Ottawa prior to the production said, ‘Would you read a part?’ I thought, okay, I’m reading a part, it’ll be easy, I’ll just have a couple of scenes. Then they said, ‘No, you’re playing the doctor.’ Korczak’s character grabbed hold of me; it was very moving to play this incredible person who devoted his life to children. And here I am, however many years later, playing him again.”

The Children’s Republic is set during the German occupation of Poland in World War II; in the play, Korczak helps run a Jewish orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto. Rainville says he thought he would get a head start by learning his lines in the summer but was then told by the playwright and director that they were making a new version.

The Children’s Republic tries to find light in a dark situation: the German occupation of Poland in World War II (photo by David Cooper).

“It’s been an interesting challenge for me,” says Rainville, “because I thought I knew Korczak.”

The new version of The Children’s Republic, says Rainville, is about turning the focus on the children as the storytellers; the play looks at Korczak in a new light.

“What’s been revealed to me is more of the essence of this man who was famous in Poland as an author of children’s books, and he was a pedagogue; he had books out on how to raise children, and his theories were quite revolutionary,” says Rainville.

The history books tell the tragic story of Korczak and the children, but Rainville says the play is about the importance of bringing light into others’ lives.

“I know what Hannah has tried to do is get even deeper inside the story,” says Rainville. “In this version of the play I’m finding that if I ever am questioning anything, it’s that the play drives me to look for answers in the kids, and that’s what Korczak’s spirit was. The answers lie within the children.”

Rainville says that playing Korczak has changed his approach to acting.

“I’ve always been a very energetic actor,” he says. “I use energy and dynamics to bring life to the characters, and Korczak just has a different energy. He’s very watchful, very careful with the kids. It demands a lot more patience and listening on my part.”

Rainville says that the play is positive even though it’s set in a very dark time.

“It’s a very uplifting story in that there is a lot funny stuff in it and humour in it as well,” he says. “As people do in dark situations, they try to find a bit of light.”

Rainville says that there is a lot of fun dialogue between his character and the character Stefa, played by Kerry Sandomirsky.

“Korczak was the director of the orphanage but Stefa ran the ship,” he says. “Stefa really kept things on track, and there is a lot of banter between the two of them. I think that is the most fun; it’s not a particular line, but it’s the nature of the relationship where they depended on each other so much. They worked together for 31 years. It was almost like a marriage but it wasn’t.”

Rainville says that he hopes the audience will see how unique the characters in The Children’s Republic are.

“In a horrible time,” he says, “they were proud and defiant and held on to their humanity in the face of inhumanity.”

The Children’s Republic
Until Sunday, October 8
The Belfry Theatre

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