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The story of Western European Jewry in the 1940s, as seen in microcosm through the personal writings of a young girl, is a tale that bears retelling, and retelling again, as all tragedies should be retold.
Anne Frank’s great gift to the future was not a revealing glimpse into the Holocaust, but a portrait of the comfortable, prosperous, gemütlich Jewish middle class — so similar to ourselves — forced to go into hiding as the dominant social power seeks their death. Can we imagine ourselves, preoccupied with our Western Society middle class lives, faced with such an inconceivable choice? Disappear from all view at once, or die.
Cranbrook Community Theatre’s presentation of “The Diary Of Anne Frank,” opening Friday, April 26, brings the story back to life, again, and we can see ourselves in Anne’s story.
Director Michelle McCue has brought together an ensemble cast of some of the best actors in town, to portray two families, and later an additional older gentleman, crammed into a small, secret annex apartment in Amsterdam by Dutch protectors, where they will spend the next years in hiding from Nazi hunters.
Two couples with three adolescent children between them, joined by an elderly dentist, the environment is cramped. But they cannot leave, at all. They cannot even make any noise. Turning in a hidden Jew can earn someone seven and a half gilders. Then you are “taken away.” You might not know where exactly, but you know what that means.
The play moves at a slow, thoughtful pace, which is necessary. At first, the two families — the Franks and the Van Daans — though in shock at being forced to go into hiding, try to resume the pleasant tedium and habits of family life. What is it like, to live in the dark, in constant fear, yet still striving to achieve the comfortable joys of the bourgeoisie? Leading us through the story is, of course, Anne — high-spirited, precocious, and irrepressible, who awaits with optimism the Spring.
And yet, the war machines rumble overhead. Sirens outside, pounding bootsteps. The sound of a barking dog from the street cuts of festive joy, then shocked silence, then panic. Then, the urge to normalcy returns.
And so the years go by. The living becomes leaner, the walls closer, the joys thinner along with the tempers. Claustrophobia and cabin fever are at hand.
Then, hope — the Allied invasion has begun.
The most important part of the play — and most difficult — is the horrifying climax. After the detached timelessness of the families’ life in the annex, events unfold with shocking speed. No doubt, exactly true to how such things went. This brief instant features some of the best ensemble acting seen on a CCT stage.
All characters are presented with great depth and development, drawing us into the interpersonal and family dynamics, the nuances of personality, the growing desperation, and the unsurpassable instinct for life.
Lily Halley is stellar as Anne. Dave Prinn and Brenda Babinski play her parents Otto and Edith Frank. Eve Sperling is Anne’s older sister Margot. Jim Cameron and Jennifer Inglis play Hermann and Petronella Van Daan, and Cade Hine their son Peter. Michael Grossman plays Alfred Dussel, the dentist forced to go into hiding with the two families. Landon Elliott is Mr. Kraler, the sympathetic Dutch “landlord.” Jelena Jenson plays Miep Gies, who brings the families provisions and news from the outside. Bob McCue plays a German officer, Walter Babinski and Scott Edmonstone play the Dutch collaborators.
“The Diary of Anne Frank” was written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, and adapted for the stage by Wendy Kesselman.
The play is directed by Michelle McCue, and produced by Elizabeth and Martin Ross.
“The Diary of Anne Frank” opens tonight, Friday, April 26 at the Studio Stage Door Theatre in Cranbrook, and runs April 27, May 2, 3, 4, with a matinee on May 5, and May 8, 9, 10 and 11.
Text and photography by Barry Coulter