‘The Diary of Anne Frank’

By Bob Abelman

“I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone . . . and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support. …”

And so begins, on June 12, 1942, young Anne Frank’s diary, which remains one of the most widely read and powerful testimonies to the horrors endured by Jewish people in World War II.

By rediscovering and publishing her now-famous diary after the war, Anne’s father lifted the 13-year-old girl from among the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis and turned her, for many, into the face and voice of the Holocaust.

First published in 1947, the book has sold more than 25 million copies and has been translated into more than 50 languages. The play, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” a dramatization by Francis Goodch and Albert Hackett, opened on Broadway in 1955.  It won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award. In 1959, the play was turned into an Oscar-winning film.

When the play was first produced, the war against Nazi Germany had been over only 10 years. Adolf Eichmann was alive and the magnitude of the Holocaust was still being revealed. It remained incomprehensible for many and so the play was both powerful and placating.

In 1997, for a Broadway revival, the play was revisited by Wendy Kesselman, who removed much of the sentimentality and melodrama and reasserted the historic Anne’s darker vision as well as the diary’s overt Jewishness.

Although the Cleveland Play House has staged “The Diary of Anne Frank” twice before – during the 1958-59 and 1996-97 seasons – the upcoming production will be the first to use Kesselman’s adaptation.

Laura Kepley

Laura Kepley

The Cleveland Jewish News interviewed director Laura Kepley the day before cast members met for a first reading of the script, to discuss what she has in store for all of us.

CJN:  As the artistic director of the CPH, why select this play for the current season?  

Kepley: This story is always important to tell. But there are a lot of things going on in the world right now where stories like this can offer perspective and inspiration.

CJN:  The play has become so iconic for many people.  How does this impact your approach to the work?

Kepley:  We need to tell this story as truthfully as we can. You can’t play a symbol. It is important to find the truth in these characters and in their relationships. We need to make the on-stage family dynamics as nuanced as the real thing.

CJN: Is that easier to do with Kesselman’s adaptation of the play? Rather than being the torchbearer for the collective experience of victims of the Holocaust, this Anne seems actual.

Kepley: Absolutely. This adaptation is so compelling because it doesn’t sugarcoat or smooth out Anne’s rough edges. It lets Anne be a teenaged young woman who is vivacious, precocious and has a fierce intelligence. And everyone in the attic needs to deal with that, among so many other things.

CJN: Given this portrayal of Anne, what key qualities were you looking for in an actor to play her?

Kepley: In re-reading the diary, I recall Anne’s description of herself as “quicksilver” – something that moves or changes very quickly, something that is difficult to hold or contain. We found this quality in Annie Fox, a New York-based actor. I have to say, she blew me away during auditions. She made the language in the script seem visceral and managed to put on display all the changes Anne Frank goes through during her two years in captivity. Also, this is a tour de force role, and Annie has the professional training and experience to handle all the language and the vocal demands of the show.

CJN: Tell us about your staging of the work.  

Kepley: We are doing this in the intimate Outcalt Theatre space, which allows us to stage it almost in the round.  And when Anne is in her room on her bed, there will be audience members no further than three feet from her. When Mrs. Van Daan is in the kitchen, there will be audience members 2 feet away. When people leave for intermission, the actors stay put. In this play, we are watching people live under extraordinary circumstances. We want the audience to feel as if it is living them as well.

On stage

“The Diary of Anne Frank”

WHERE: Cleveland Play House, Outcalt Theatre, 1501 Euclid Ave., Cleveland

WHEN: Oct. 21 – Nov. 19

TICKETS & INFO: $25 – $105, call 216-241-6000 or go to clevelandplayhouse.com

Bob Abelman covers professional theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at Facebook.com/BobAbelman3. 2017 Ohio Media Editors best columnist.

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News October 11, 2017.

Lead image: Anne Frank