The story of the short life and tragic death of Anne Frank, her family, and others who shared her fate cannot help but move those who experience it, whether as a book, a play, or a film. This obviously doesn’t include those who hate Jews and deny the Nazi Holocaust in the face of irrefutable evidence. Some may have read the book, seen the Pulitzer Prize winning play or the subsequent Oscar winning film. Those media touched people all over the world. But that was long ago now, so in these times of surging anti-semitism and racial hatred it is important to see and hear the story produced again in the intimacy of the theatre, especially for those who may not know the sad facts of her life and death and those of millions of others who shared her fate.
Anne, A New Play, adapted by Nick Blaemire from the play by Jessica Durlacher and Leon de Winter and now in production at the Museum of Tolerance, creates the story with new twists while keeping intact the essential facts. Self-consciously theatrical, the play begins with the cast entering through the audience before taking their places on stage. As a kind of curtain raiser, a short scene acts as a fantasy prelude in which Anne (Ava Lalezarzadeh) is seen sitting with her writings at an outdoor table in a Paris bistro, where she encounters The Publisher (Timothy P. Brown) who banters with the young writer over the possibility of publishing her work. Once into the action of the drama, The Publisher appears several more times during the show as a reminder that the scribblings of an adolescent girl will be revealed to the world.
The action of the drama takes place in the secret attic of a factory owned by Otto Frank (Rob Brownstein in a masterful performance). The Frank family–father Otto, his wife Edith (Andrea Gwynnel), and their daughters, Anne and Margot (Marnina Schon)–share the cramped quarters with the van Pels family–Hermann (Aylam Orian), his brittle wife, Auguste (Mary Gordon Murray), and teenaged son, Peter (Kevin Matsumoto), who inevitably becomes romantically involved with Anne. Some time into the action, another refugee is invited into the already crowded situation, the difficult dentist, Fritz Pfeffer (Tony DeCarlo). Besides the every day stress of their situation and the always-present danger of discovery, the families experience the inevitable conflicts of close contact. Anne clashes with her mother; Margot smolders in silence; Mr. van Pels sells his wife’s fur coat provoking her melt down. And Anne clashes with the rigid Pfeffer who has moved in to share her room.
The play ends, as it must, with discovery and deportation. Otto Frank, as the sole survivor catalogs the fate of the others. Sad, yes, emotionally affecting, yes, but along the way there are indelible moments of humor and the simple joy of life.
Director Eve Brandstein keeps the action crisp and balances the desperation of the situation with the every day hope of survival. The production boasts a terrific creative team, which includes set designer Desma Murphy, lighting designer Ian James, sound and projections designer Derek Christiansen, costume designer Florence Kemper Bunzel and graphics designer Carrie Kneitel. The production stage manager is Ernest Mcdaniel.
Anne, A New Play, based on the book The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, translated by Susan Massotty, produced by Suzi Dietz and presented by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, continues through July 22 at the Museum of Tolerance, 9786 West Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles.