Last Wednesday, I took advantage of the opportunity to see the final preview of EgoPo’s latest production: The Diary of Anne Frank, directed by Rowan’s own Lane Savadove at the Prince Musical Theater. It was a miserably rainy day and like five out-of-towners, my friends and I did four circles around our destination before ever finding it, but after seeing the show, I will say that it was, and still is, very much worth the trip.
Most of you will be familiar with the story of Anne Frank and her famous diary. In celebration of Jewish Theatre, EgoPo brings to life the story audiences only thought they knew in a new, powerful adaption by Wendy Kesselman. A deeply personal account, filled with first person monologues taken from the pages of Frank’s own diary, the show’s cast and set pull the audience deep into the private lives of the eight main characters.
Before first hints of stage lights dawn upon the set, its intimacy is obvious, even in the dim pre-show lighting. My friends with more set-designing experience than myself questioned how the actors would be capable of moving around with so little space. From my own studies, I acknowledged that it was definitely a fair attempt at thrusting the audience face-first into the unflattering, historically accurate reality of the Franks and van Pels families’ hellish sanctuary.
The show begins with Otto Frank returning to the scene of his family’s arrest after his liberation from Auschwitz in 1945. As he begins to read the earlier pages of his youngest daughter’s diary, the story unfolds around him as the characters begin to ascend the staircase onto the set.
Most of the story is told through the interactions of the cast, which smoothly transition into nightly accounts from Anne Frank herself. Oftentimes writing in her diary by candlelight, she looks up to acknowledge the audience directly from the minimal privacy of her bedroom. In what struck me as a very interesting addition, there were a few intimate monologues given to the other characters as well, proving a variation in perspectives.
The tragedy of the Frank’s and van Pels’ mutual hiding place is thickly evident in every moment shared between them. Tension often occurs as the characters’ individual differences collide in such close quarters. Juxtaposing that, moments of tenderness warm the stage just as frequently in the Hanukkah celebration scene, as the various nostalgic conversation shared between the characters. In one scene, every person on stage rejoiced in the presentation of spice cake, and this paired with their Hanukkah wishes of simplicities such as coffee, dancing, and to hear a lover speak once more, was perhaps even more heartbreaking than the end we all know the families eventually met.
As an audience member, I found the most beauty in the irony of listening to Anne’s character recount the whimsicality of first love and kissing. In the midst of darkness, a fourteen-year-old girl is perhaps the only being capable of finding light. The production ended in expected tragedy, after the Nazis arrest the members of the annex, the stage lights dimly reappear only once more for Otto Frank to conclude his monologue from the beginning of the show. In what was nothing less than perfect, his words reduced most of the audience to tears, as the first person account of the horrors of The Holocaust became gruesomely undeniable.