Reading/Interest Level: Primary, Intermediate
Author: Charles Way
Publisher: Plays for Young Audiences
Estimated Runtime: 65 minutes
Number of Characters: 14
Cast Requirements: 3 men, 2 women
Time Period: 1944-45
Production Requirements: Several defined settings, period costuming, actors with ability to perform magic tricks, actors able to perform a scene in Russian
Young Ernst has been surviving the horrors of WWII Germany with his mother. When at last the situation grows too dangerous, a protesting Ernst is sent to the country to live with his aunt. Ernst is eventually abandoned by his psychologically disturbed aunt and falls in with the tramp that has been stealing her eggs. The curmudgeonly old man who will only agree to be called “Mr. H” eventually agrees to help the boy return to Frankfurt since the war is over. As they travel, Ernst discovers that Mr. H is a magician, and he teaches Ernst magical tricks and survival tips as they go. Facing hunger, cold, and the dangers of a war-torn country, Mr. H and Ernst eventually arrive home to Frankfurt, where Ernst is reunited with his family. Mr. H disappears, and Ernst never sees him again.
The play is bookended with scenes of a grown-up Ernst, now a world-famous magician, preparing for a magic show back in his hometown. A balloon on stage sparks a memory of childhood and the audience is transported to the past. The script is full of storytelling-like stage directions, including this transition. Careful staging will be required to make these transitions clear to the audience. The hardships of war and the terrors of Ernst’s journey are present, but the goodness found in humanity is highlighted in Mr. H and other characters. Real magic tricks throughout also add a lightness to the otherwise serious subject matter. Dialogue is flowing and natural and aids in the strong characterization present in the script. Young audiences will appreciate the interesting plot, and parents and educators will appreciate the opportunity for discussion and learning that the show will spark. An author’s note informs readers that the play is based on a real-life character, but that the events are fictional.