With over 30 million copies of “The Diary of a Young Girl” sold to date, Anne Frank’s story is one of the most widely-known victim accounts of the Holocaust.
But the only reason people know what happened to Anne Frank and the other residents of the Secret Annex is because Anne Frank herself wrote it down.
The importance of Anne Frank’s words, and the power of words in general, is a core theme of Evergreen Playhouse’s production of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which opens in Centralia on Friday, Feb. 3.
“(Words) hurt, they praise, they lift up, they sting … but because of words, we know her story,” said the show’s director, Danielle Kays.
“The Diary of Anne Frank” is a new stage adaptation by Wendy Kesselman of the “The Diary of a Young Girl,” a collection of writings from the diary Anne Frank kept for two years in hiding during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands.
The show is a passion project for Kays, who played one of the Secret Annex residents’ helpers, Miep Gies, in a high school production before directing a different high school production about eight years ago.
Kays said she is excited about the prospect of not just bringing Anne Frank’s story to life on stage, but honoring the real people who lived in the Secret Annex.
“We’re not only bringing honor to Anne and her family and the Annex residents, but we’re also bringing honor to the other unnamed people that got captured up into this whole mess,” Kays said. “Some of their choices lead to freedom and some of their choices did not.”
The play begins with the four members of the Frank family arriving at the Secret Annex to begin their life in hiding, a decision made by Otto Frank (played by Dan Overton) to keep his family together after his eldest daughter Margot (played by Lizzie Conner) received a notice to report to a German labor camp. They are soon joined by the three members of the Van Dann family and a Jewish dentist, Mr. Dussell (played by Ed Thorpe).
“Everybody here is really trying to do respect to, not just this play, not just this show, but this family and the story that they represent,” said Overton.
He added that he strives to honor the person he’s portraying on the Evergreen Playhouse stage, “but if I’m going to be honoring Otto, I’m also going to be honoring his family and what his family meant, and it’s heavy,” he said.
To reflect that none of the Secret Annex residents could leave during their time in hiding, the actors remain on stage for the entirety of the play, including intermission.
Kays took an “abstract feel” to the show’s set design to represent the Annex’s three stories on a flat stage with a relatively low ceiling. Teresa McKenzieSullivan, who plays one of the Nazis, did the paint job and designed the back wall with the goal of representing “a decrepit-old attic” that is “not unfinished, but old, neglected, falling apart.”
“This is a really well-written play and it examines what it would be like to live with eight people in three rooms,” said Thorpe.
Emilie Brown, who plays Mrs. Van Daan, said she aimed to strike a balance between honoring the real person she is portraying while also recognizing the human element of their struggles.
“These are two families who are sharing a tight space … so learning how to live together and to negotiate and navigate this space in a very trying time is also very interesting, and I think the play does a really good job of that,” Brown said.
The actors playing the Annex residents only exit at the end of the play when, inevitably, the Nazis arrive to take them away.
To further add historical weight to the show, the uniforms worn by the two actors portraying Nazis are authentic, on-loan from the Veteran’s Memorial Museum.
“This is real, and I’m wearing part of history. Unfortunately, my character is the vile side,” said McKenzieSullivan on how it feels to put on the Nazi uniform. “It’s amazing to put on a uniform and know it’s authentic, like whose blood and whose tears and whose sweat is on the inside of the jacket? It’s powerful, honestly.”
Having never played an antagonist before, McKenzieSullivan said while her role was necessary for telling Anne Frank’s story, “It doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t.”
Keeping a positive atmosphere on set has been essential for the actors to get through the show’s tough material.
“You’re worried that if you get into character too much, you won’t be able to do your job,” said Thorpe.
The show does have a bright spot in the form of Frank herself.
“Anne is a very energetic, ADHD kid who, even though she’s cramped in this tiny annex, she just wants to fly around and see the world,” said Ruby Stanton, who plays Anne Frank. “Even though it’s a very dramatic and sad story, it’s so joyful and it’s such a heartfelt show, it’s super fun to do every single night. … I engulf myself in the story too, and I’m on stage acting.”
When asked if he had a message to those coming to see the show, Overton said, “They should bring tissues, that’s for sure.”
Anne Frank: Ruby Stanton
Otto Frank: Dan Overton
Edith Frank: Brenda Crummett
Margot Frank: Lizzie Conner
Peter Van Daan: Nathan Crummett
Mr. Van Daan: Matthew Michael
Mrs. Van Daan: Emilie Brown
Mr. Dussel: Ed Thorpe
Miep Gies: Michelle Koenen
Mr. Kraler: Isaac McKenzieSullivan
Colin Parker: Jordan McMahon
Karl Silberbauer/Additional Voices: JC Hewitt
Wilhelm Grootendorst: Mark Pendleton
Mika Gringhuis: Theresa McKenzieSullivan
Director/Light Design: Danielle Kays
Stage Manager: Matthew Hawkins
Costumes: Allison Haugan
Set Design/Scenic Painting: Theresa McKenzieSullivan
Set Construction: Isaac McKenzieSullivan, Mark Pendleton
Properties/Set Dressing: Alene Stewart
Hair/Wigs: Matthew Michael
Sound/Light Operator: Cora Dailey