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THUNDER BAY, ON  ---   March 6, 2011  ---   The current production, HANAS SUITCASE, at Magnus Hanna Suite CaseTheatre, Thunder Bay,  is a holocaust story, told from the view point of children. Karen Levine had first read a story about Hana’s suitcase in “The Canadian Jewish News” in the year 2000. A CBC radio journalist she was at once intrigued by the story and set about writing the radio documentary about the story. It aired in 2001 and that is when I first heard the story of Hana’s Suitcase. After the award winning radio documentary, the book followed also written by Karen Levine titled Hana’s Suitcase. Years later her book has been adapted for stage by playwright Emil Sher. So now we have an award winning story playing on stage at Thunder Bay’s Magnus Theatre.

I must admit that I like a large cast, and this production uses eight actors on stage. More actors help tell a complicated story better than a few, they provide a visual and auditory contrast needed to keep things vibrant. With the arrival of Hana’s empty suitcase at a Tokyo holocaust, centre two Japanese school children take an interest in the person who owned this suitcase. Who was she? How Old? How was it that the suitcase ended up in Tokyo? What was the story of this orphaned school age girl? The list of questions grew and it soon became apparent that the story of Hana’s Suitcase could be used to tell the story of the Holocaust not only to Japanese school children, but to children throughout the world.


This is a true story, one with a Canadian connection. It has all the elements that will keep you attentive during the play. For a start curiosity is a human quality we all share, and it won’t be long before you too are curious about this mysterious suitcase. Secondly it features exotic locations. The story of the Japanese school children and their use of this story in itself is intriguing. There is more, the Brady family lived in war time Czechoslovakia, a time and place exotic to most Canadians as is Canada to many other countries. Then there is the darkness of the holocaust. This is not a holocaust story like Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”, It too is a film everyone should see but only once. Karen Levine at her award reception had he work credited with teaching school children about the evils of racism and bullying. If this is the case the life about the blond haired Hana Brady and the other one and a half million children who perished at Auschwitz was not entirely in vain.

Hanna's Suite CaseAs I sat and listened to the play I wondered why someone would go through the effort to investigate the story of an empty suitcase? Soon enough the answer arrived on stage. Actress Renelta Arluk who played the part of Fumike Ishioka of the Tokyo holocaust centre said. “For the Children”

As always I find the direction and production at Magnus outstanding. We truly have a great local professional theatre company, The lighting, staging and the creative use of multi-media make the stage productions come alive.

Needless to say this production is not an entertainment as we have become used to with so many musical based productions this season. From time to time we need a serious production to get us thinking about the strife in this world and the need expose human abuse at every opportunity. This is easier today than in the past. Modern communication quickly spreads the word. The other thing we can do is share the stories from the past and learn from them. So go see Mario Crudo’s production with Renelta Arluk. Chris Cound, Minh Ly, Amy Myers, Ari Weinberg, Brian Young, Andrea Yu, and Viviana Zarillo at Magnus. The show runs from March 3rd till the 19th and you won’t be disappointed.

Bert Rowson
Arts Editor:

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