The classic Diary of Anne Frank plays at the Al Green Theatre in Toronto
The number of stories that can be told about the Holocaust are as many and varied as the number of lives the Holocaust – one of the most horrific events in human history – has touched. One of those many stories lies in the diary of a young Jewish girl as she was taken into hiding with her family desperately hoping to wait out the war. This would be the diary of Anne Frank.
Anne’s story has been retold many times in film and on stage. The story documents close to two years of Anne’s life beginning at the tender age of 13. Anne Frank, the youngest daughter of Otto and Edith Frank, is taken into hiding with her parents and sister Margot to live in a tiny apartment in Amsterdam with a second family, the Van Daan’s and a dentist seeking refuge, Mr. Dussel. Periodically they are visited by Miep who secured their safe-keeping.
Her diary begins in 1942 when Anne’s family takes refuge in a hidden apartment at her father’s office building. Through Anne’s eyes we see the life of a girl beginning her teen-hood, in many ways still a child but on the gradual progression to becoming a woman. Through her liveliness, cheerfulness and energetic laughter, the morale of the people around her are kindled.
Her first entries start with the wide-eyed innocence that can be expected from any 13-year-old girl, who else can draw a romantic adventure out of living on the run? Gradually we see Anne blossom as she develops a growing fondness for Peter Van Daan, argues with her sister and rebel against her mother. Throughout the production, you gradually forget that these people are hiding from war as you become involved in this girl’s life. But the cries of sirens, the footfalls of Nazi soldiers, and the German orders heard throughout the city serve as a painful reminder.
The Diary of Anne Frank absorbs you in, as my boyfriend Bob, my date for the evening, put it: “There were far more than eight people in that tiny annex” as with every breath you were there. You could feel yourself grow hungry as their hunger set in, you could smell rotting potatoes and ignore the stench when it became their nourishment for the day. You cringed and glanced over your shoulder when the echoing soldiers marched by. You were attempting to shush Anne when she cried out from a nightmare. You were there.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to walk out of this production without shedding a few tears and twice I was hit: first, during the families’ celebration of Hannukah when Margot broke down at the implication of not being able to return home. Finally, when all was beginning to go well, the liberation was on their way and the war would soon be over but then, betrayal and the Nazis at their door leading them to the camps. Followed by Otto’s heartrending speech describing what befell all those he loved and him finding his youngest daughter’s diary.
After the show, as Bob and I stood outside the theatre, I asked him his impressions. Bob was silent for a good ten minutes. Bob is half German and can trace his ancestry to the Nazi party. For years he struggled to reconcile his past and the part his family played in the atrocities that occurred. When he found his voice and looked at me, eyes red and puffy, he asked, “Is it wrong that I want to go back inside and apologize?”
Anne wrote “When I write, I shake off all my cares. But I want to achieve more than that. I want to be useful and bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met.” Her diary is her legacy – a beautifully tragic account of this horrendous time relived on stage done artistically, tastefully, a gem.
– The Diary of Anne Frank is produced by Shakespeare in Action and is playing at The Al Green Theatre (750 Spadina Ave.)
– The production runs March 15 – 22 and the 24th with morning performances at 10 am, matinees at 1:30 pm and evening shows at 7:30 pm.
– Tickets are $25 + HST for regular admission and $18 + HST for students and seniors and can be purchased online at gettickets.ca.
Photo of Sascha Cole as Anne Frank by Joel Charelebois.