After I closed Sense and Sensibility not too long ago, I delved into the next project 2019 had in store for me, and it stood in stark contrast to the light-hardheartedness of the Jane Austen classic. This was The Diary of Anne Frank, the play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett based on Anne Frank’s own The Diary of a Young Girl. The play, like the book, is full of humanity in all it’s various shades, colors and hues.

“Human greatness does not lie in wealth or power, but in character and goodness”. – Anne Frank

For my part, I am an understudy in this particular production at Park Square Theatre, which means I am keeping a sharp eye on the way in which actor Ryan London Levin portrays the character of Peter. The whole process has been quick and exhilarating, as I do my best to convey Levin’s version of the role while not necessarily doing an “impression” of him. It can be a fine line, for sure, but through diligent focus and precise note taking, I believe (or hope) that I have distinguished those moments where I go, “oh, that’s a CLEAR choice I should copy because it effects the other actors” versus “that’s just a natural tic of Ryan’s that I’m free to do my own thing with.”*

*Disclaimer to director Ellen Fenster or S.M. Lyndsey Harter – please refute this and push me in the right direction if need be!

Only known photo of Peter van Pels.

You can tell it’s been a new process, but ultimately, one I’ve really enjoyed. Anytime I can be in the room and help create a play, I’m in-it-to-win-it. Especially when that play tells a story as important as Anne Frank’s, which immediately reflected back to me issues we’re struggling with in our own society. The rise of antisemitism, racial discrimination and right-wing violence to name a few. No, these are not light-heated subjects but I believe they must be talked about and it just so happens that the theatre is a safe space in which such heavy topics can be discussed.

What’s even more important is that The Diary of Anne Frank is being performed for teenagers in Minnesota. For two months this show is playing five days a week to busloads of students, coming to this safe space to hear a story of how humanity’s worse tendencies overwhelmed a family of innocent people. In that secret annex, there were eight people and only one survived, Anne’s father, Otto, who discovered her diary after the war and worked to have it published.

It’s an incredible story of resilience, determination, tragedy and yet, even joy. Anne was a teenager after all, and was very candid about her hopes and dreams for the future. It’s what makes the story so compelling and poignant. It’s also what makes it so relate-able and I think, frankly scary. That in a modern, Western society (not that long ago) a government arose that sought to limit and exterminate the lives of those deemed unworthy. By what measure? By what determination? Who has that right? Can it happen again? And if so, who’s willing to push back?

These are questions I’ve seriously asked myself recently and I truly thank Anne for making me. I truly hope a handful of kids ask the same questions after the show and they begin to think about how to preserve the world of freedom in which they live.

The Frank family – Otto, Anne, Edith and Margot

P.S.

There’s a bevy of topics I thought about covering in this blog, but my thoughts outpace my keyboard! How I’m reading The Diary of a Young Girl for the first time, the true necessity to win World War II, how my father was born the year Anne Frank was captured, and so many other thoughts about liberty, sacrifice, and history repeating itself… I may be an understudy, but I’m certainly ready to go on anytime!*

*Disclaimer to the cast/crew – I hope Ryan plays the role every damn day!

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