THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
Pit & Balcony Unveils the Light of Hope Buried in the Darkness of a Haunting Historical Memoir
18th January, 2018 0
The Diary of Anne Frank is without doubt one of the most famous, haunting, and enduring stories to emerge from the 20th Century. The memoirs of this young Jewish girl, forced to hide for nearly two years within the confines of a small concealed storage attic in Amsterdam with 8 people to escape Nazi persecution; and eventually put to death at the tender age of 15, serves as both an essential, chilling, and poignant reminder of how we remember one of the darkest periods of our human history.
Pit & Balcony Community Theatre is now poised to stage a passionate fresh translation of this poignant classic in a series of performances that run from January 26-28 & February 2-4. When the original theatrical dramatization opened on Broadway in 1955, after 717 performances it received a Tony Award for Best Play and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama; but in 1997 playwright Wendy Kesselman constructed an adaptation of the original script, drawing from previously unpublished parts of Anne Frank’s real-life diary, allowing the audience to experience Anne in a way that breathes life into this passionate, complex young woman, allowing us to share her relatable experience of adolescence as a familiarly modern teenager.
For nearly two years, Anne, her father, mother, and sister, joined with the Van Daan family, to hide in a secret annex space above her father’s former office in Amsterdam, as the Nazis deported the Jews of Holland to their deaths. In her secret attic, Anne comes of age: she laughs, plays, fights with her mother, and falls in love for the first time. In spite of her oppressive circumstances and the horrors that surround her, Anne’s spirit transcends, as she voices her belief, “in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” Anne’s dynamism, her luminous spirit, and her story of resilience continue to resonate deeply, making her story as vital today as when her diary first was published.
For first-time Pit Director Danielle Katsoulos, this revised 1997 Kesselman version is even more striking and powerful than the original. “One of the reasons I like this version better is because of the actual dialogue and realness of the characters,” she explains. “It’s one thing to know the story of this young Jewish girl in hiding and her diary and another thing to feel the realness of what transpires in this show as you watch the human connectedness of these 8-people living in this small space in this time of darkness.”
“Whereas the original script opens post-capture and ends in the same way, this version opens with the action of the Nazis first arriving,” continues Danielle. “Plus, with the original version you hear the Nazi soldiers marching to the door but never entering; and in this version the ending is one of the most intense scenes in the production. The families have just heard of the Allied Invasion and you see these powerful emotions of joy and hope flowing out of these people, but then a Nazi-soldier creeps on stage and the horror of what is happening is imminent. The way the stage is set up there’s always an element of surprise from never knowing who will come through the door, which augments the realness even more. The audience sees these families being torn away from one another, which hits the audience with the reality of everything happening.”
One of the many qualities distinguishing The Diary of Anne Frank is how the scope of the lens on most historical war docudramas is open wide and spans continents, whereas with Anne’s diary we are dealing with a confined space and the lens turned inward upon the emotional architecture of the characters. For Danielle, this is only one of many qualities that make the importance of this work so enduring.
“With doing a renowned historical play such as this it’s easy to get caught in the final product,” reflects Danielle, “but for me it’s the human connectedness and building relationships between the characters that is important. Everyone knows the history behind this, but I want people to feel it. How does each character feel about themselves at the beginning, middle and end of the production? As an example, Anne is vibrant free spirit never afraid to communicate how she feels, whereas Mrs. Van Daan is an older version of Anne in certain ways, so occasionally they bump heads. Similarly, Peter Van Daan has a father who places importance on doing everything right, but always points out the one thing Peter does wrong, so consequently Peter is kind of introverted and not able to express himself a lot within this lack of spatial liberation and confinement. Anne has her diary and is encouraged to express herself – so again you have this dichotomy between the various characters and I’m trying to focus on these different layers of characterization and perception; how each individual defines their roles and how they cope with those roles.”
“One of the most challenging and important things for me as a director in doing such a historical play was to make sure I was accurate and respectful when it came to all the elements of the Jewish religion,” Danielle adds. “The lighting of the menorah is a good example. We have no practicing Jews in the cast and I wanted to make sure the details were right, so one of the cast member’s friends is a practicing Jew that came to one of our rehearsals and gave us some consultation. They broke down phonetically the melodic Hebrew prayer sung while lighting the menorah, along with how to properly light it. You’re never supposed to blow out the candles because they represent sanctity; and since human breath is not holy you cannot blow out the candles, but you can snuff them. I wanted to hold true to this authenticity.”
With a cast consisting of Spencer Beyerlein s Mr. Kraler, Rachel Creed as Mrs. Van Daan, Jaeleen Davis as Anne Frank, Andrew Fergerson as Mr. Dussel, Cassandra Graham as Margot Frank, Nathan Hanley as Peter Van Daan, Jeff List as Mr. Van Daan, Kevin Profitt as Otto Frank, Mary Spadafore as Edith Frank, and Amber Tanner as Meip, Danielle is delighted with the cast assembled for this production.
“Jaeleen Davis is in her early 20s and reads really young and has the emotional depth and importance of understanding, coupled with youth and vibrancy that captures Anne’s character,” notes Danielle. “Our oldest cast member is Kevin Profitt as Otto Frank, who is the glue that holds everything together and is the peacemaker in the annex. He’s also a businessman and Kevin has to do that with his own real-life occupation, serving as a mediator at his workplace.”
Thematically, Danielle is equally passionate about the meticulous care she is bringing to the rendering of her debut production at Pit & Balcony. “Nobody can deny the grotesque treatment of the Jewish people in World War II, but when you read Anne’s story from her diary what draws me to her character is how despite the horrific reality of her daily existence, she never closes a day going away sad about things she cannot change. She possesses this unfailing sense of hope and finds joy in the smallest things, embracing the freedom we do have and the liberation that we often take for granted.”
“That sense of hope is the element I want to emphasize,” concludes Danielle. “There is one window in the attic annex they all live within that functions as Anne’s one window of hope symbolically. She sees the birds fly and the moon shine and is reminded of what she once had and hopes to still have in the future; and how despite everything, she can still see the good in people. For Anne, it’s that flame of hope that keeps her going. And hope is the fuel that ignites the flame to positive change.”
Pit & Balcony’s production of ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ will run from January 26-28 & February 2-4. Tickets are available by phoning 989.754.6587 or visiting PitandBalconyTheatre.com.
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)