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Longtime Raleigh Little Theatre artistic director Haskell Fitz-Simons will stage a recently revised PG-13 rated version of Albert Hackett and Francis Goodrich's prize-winning play, The Diary of Anne Frank, starring Chloe Novak as Anne, April 9-25 on its Cantey V. Sutton Main Stage. The husband-and-wife play writing team's splendid stage adaptation of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, directed by Garson Kanin and starring Susan Strasberg as Anne, made its Broadway debut on Oct. 5, 1955 at the Cort Theatre, ran through June 22, 1957, and in 1956 won the Pulitzer Prize for Best New American Drama, the Tony Award® for Best Play, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play, and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Play.
In reviewing the original production, The New York Times critic called the play "a lovely tender drama.... [It is] strange how the shining spirit of a young girl now dead can filter down through the years and inspire a group of theatrical professionals in a foreign land." The New York Herald-Tribune reviewer said, "The precise quality of the new play at the Cort is the quality of glowing, ineradicable life — life in its warmth, its wonder, its spasms of anguish and its wild and flaring humor.... Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett have fashioned a wonderfully sensitive and theatrically craftsmanlike narrative out of the real-life legacy left us by a spirited and straightforward Jewish girl... as bright and shining as a banner." And the New York Daily News critic claimed, "There is so much beauty, warm humor, gentle pity... in The Diary of Anne Frank that it is difficult to imagine how this play could be contained in one set on one stage.... [T]his is a fine drama."
The 1959 motion-picture version of The Diary of Anne Frank, directed by George Stevens and starring Millie Perkins as Anne, earned eight 1960 Academy Award® nominations (including Best Picture and Best Director) and won three Oscars (including Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Shelley Winters).
The Cinebooks' Motion Picture Guide awarded the film four stars (out of 5) and called this movie "A vivid and carefully produced work of poignancy and loss."
The recent Broadway revival of The Diary of Anne Frank, directed by James Lapine and starring Natalie Portman as Anne, opened on Dec. 4, 1997 at the Music Box Theatre, ran for 221 performances, and earned two Tony Award nominations (including one for Best Revival of a Play). The revival featured playwright Wendy Kesselman's revision of the Albert Hackett/Frances Goodrich script. Kesselman added passages to the script from The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition (Doubleday, 1995), which contains 30 percent more material, including previously suppressed passages Anne's sometimes tense and difficult relationship with her mother and her budding sexuality — pages that Otto Frank omitted when diary was originally published in 1947.
In reviewing the show's 1997-98 Broadway revival, The New York Times' reviewers called the revised script "Undeniably moving. It shatters the heart. The evening never lets us forget the inhuman darkness waiting to claim its incandescently human heroine." The New York Daily News raved, "[This] new Diary is chillingly honest about the Holocaust. Wendy Kesselman's work has restored the terror." And New York Newsday claimed, "Wendy Kesselman's finely textured new Diary tells a deeper story. [It is] a sensitive, stirring and thoroughly engaging new adaptation."
RLT director Haskell Fitz-Simons says, "I have actually never seen this play [on stage] before. I read the Diary as a boy and, of course, saw the movie with Millie Perkins, Shelley Winters, et al."
He adds, "When I read The Diary of Anne Frank as a boy, it created a lasting and indelible impression. Anne was a remarkable wordsmith, and her diary speaks so eloquently of a time filled with a horror and injustice that most of us cannot even imagine. Anne's diary survived, incredibly, and, through it, we hear her unique voice, telling her own powerful version of a story that most of us find unimaginable in this day and age.
"Anne's story serves not only as a tragic stark reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust," claims Fitz-Simons, "but also serves as a testament to the heroics of an ordinary heart in the midst of unfathomable injustice. Anne Frank's hope and bravery, in the face of one of the darkest chapters in human history, are most eloquently memorialized in these pages."
Fitz-Simons says, "The  play by Albert Hackett and Francis Goodrich … ran for over a year and a half. In 1997, Wendy Kesselman revived the play, making a revision of the script that used new materials from the diary. In this revision, Anne surfaces as a living, breathing human being; a preternaturally talented young woman who deals honestly and frankly with the horrors facing her and her family." But, Fitz-Simons warns, "The material may be a little intense for some sensitive souls. Use discretion."
He adds, "The play begins with the day in July of 1942 that Otto Frank (Fred Corlett), his wife Edith (Kathleen Rudolph), and their two daughters, Margot (Leigh Alstat) and Anne (Chloe Novak), go into hiding in an attic 'Annex' to escape the Nazi terror. Also sharing the cramped garret are Otto's business partner, Hermann Van Daan (Larry Evans), with his wife, Petronella (Jenny Anglum), and 16-year-old son Peter (Jon Kakaley)."
Fitz-Simons says, "The refugees are cared-for by a couple of Dutch Christian 'helpers,' Miep Gies (Amy Berenson) and Mr. Kraler (Mark Aman), who forge ration books and bring the hide-aways food and other necessities. As the play progresses, the close quarters bring out tensions in the stressed-out residents. Anne's often-rambunctious behavior, typical of many teenagers, causes some tempers to flare. Through it all, Anne demonstrates her talents as observer and diarist as she writes her insightful descriptions of daily life in 'The Annex.'
"Into this mix comes, rather late in the game, a fussy older man, a dentist, Mr. Dussell (Jerry Zieman), who, due to the lack of space, ends up sharing Anne's room with her," notes Fitz-Simons. "As the months go by, the depravations grow worse, food and other provisions are scarce. The situation outside the Annex grows serious as all Dutch Jews are deported to German 'work camps.' Finally, just when things are at their worst, news comes that the Allied invasion has begun; and the refugees feel hope that it will soon all be over."
Then, Fitz-Simons says, "On an idyllic sunny afternoon, full of anticipation of the peace to come, their world is shattered: their hiding place is discovered and the inhabitants of the Annex are brutally separated and sent off to join the millions who went before them to the camps. Only Otto survives. Our last image is that of the grieving Mr. Frank, clutching the only thing that remains of his daughter: her diary."
Besides director Haskell Fitz-Simons, the production team for The Diary of Anne Frank includes set and lighting designer Rick Young, costume designer Vicki Olson, and sound designer Ed Bodell.
Fitz-Simons says Rick Young's set is a "multi-level representation of the garret quarters inhabited by the Franks and Van Daans for 22 months during 1942-1944." Young's lighting is "dark and spare, as befits the attic surroundings where all windows are obscured by blackout curtains," and Vicki Olson's costumes are "unpretentious clothing of the period and class," Fitz-Simons adds.
Haskell Fitz-Simons says, "Some of the challenges of bringing this script to life onstage have to do with creating a setting that conveys the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Annex where the eight people lived over an operating warehouse in the business district of Amsterdam. Scenic designer Rick Young has responded beautifully, creating a multi-level environment that absolutely captures the closed-in feeling of the actual place.
"Another challenge," Fitz-Simons says, "comes in the casting of the play: the actress who plays Anne must be capable of, among other things, of playing Anne from the ages of 13 at the beginning to the age of 15 at the end. We are fortunate to have the talented young actress, Chloe Novak, playing the role as Anne."
He adds, "Another challenge, given the scope of the timeline, has been finding how the actors make costume changes appropriate to the passage of time while effectively being held prisoner within the confines of the set. Costume designer Vicki Olson has created an amazing array of costumes that convey the passage of time and yet can be changed quickly and efficiently while onstage."
Fitz-Simons says, "One of the most difficult challenges in producing this play, has been to take a cast of contemporary actors and lead them on a journey, far from the sunlit lives we lead in the 21st century U.S.A., back to a time where the freedoms we hold so dear, along with the ordinary and extraordinary people of a time and a place, their hopes, dreams, and their very existence were trampled brutally into the mire of history.
"It has not been an easy journey," claims Fitz-Simons. "Most of us have had to face sides of our own natures that we would just as soon have left alone. Yet, it is important to remember this time. We say, 'It could never happen again,' and yet the terror and injustices of tyranny against the innocent and helpless are still ongoing. One has to look no further than Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, or, more recently, Iraq, to point out the most obvious, in order to see situations where the lives of ordinary people have been trampled under the foot of a totalitarian regime with an agenda that does not include the freedoms and rights of all.
"It can happen again," declares Haskell Fitz-Simons. "And it can happen here! Anne's words help us all to realize the consequences of turning blind eyes to that possibility."
"A single death is a tragedy," quipped Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin (1879-1953). "A million deaths is a statistic."
According to The Simon Wiesenthal Center, an estimated 5,860,000 Jews and approximately 5,000,000 non-Jews died during the Holocaust, which the center delineates as the period between January 30, 1933, when Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler took office as chancellor of Germany, and V-E Day (May 8, 1945), when the war in Europe ended.
More than anything else, publication of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl in 1947 gave the countless Jewish victims a human face. Numbed to the bone by nightmarish photographs of the concentration camps, obscene piles of bodies, and ghastly gaunt portraits of the pitiful survivors, military veterans and civilians alike could identify with the hopes and fears of a precocious German-Jewish schoolgirl, aged 13-15, hiding with her family and four family friends in occupied Amsterdam in The Netherlands in a Secret Annex above her father's business.
Annelies Marie "Anne" Frank was only 13, but already an aspiring writer, on July 6, 1942, when she entered the Secret Annex with her father Otto, mother Edith, older sister Margot, and the Van Daan family (father Hans, mother Petronella, and son Peter). They were later joined by dentist Albert Dussell.
"When I write," says Anne Frank. "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. I want to go on living even after my death." Elsewhere, she wrote (in a much-quoted passage): "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are still truly good at heart."
Anne Frank was only 15 on August 4, 1994, when a Dutch Nazi — finally identified by Carol Ann Lee in The Hidden Life of Otto Frank (Perennial, 2003) — betrayed the Jews hiding in the Secret Annex. Only Otto Frank survived the concentration camps, but Margot and Anne Frank came heartbreakingly close. They contracted typhus and died together in Bergen-Belsen in late March 1945, a few months short of Anne's 16th birthday and just a few weeks before the camp was liberated.
Anne Frank was born on June 12, 1929. She would have celebrated her 75th birthday this year. Raleigh Little Theatre was well aware of that fact when it scheduled The Diary of Anne Frank for spring 2004 season. RLT's presentation of this moving drama is also scheduled to coincide with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museums' national "Days of Remembrance" (April 18-25).
Raleigh Little Theatre presents The Diary of Anne Frank Friday-Saturday, April 9-10, at 8 p.m.; Wednesday-Saturday, April 14-17 and 21-24, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 18 and 25, at 3 p.m. in RLT's Cantey V. Sutton Main Stage, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $13 Wednesday, $17 Thursday/Sunday, and $19 Friday-Saturday, except $11 student and senior rate for Sunday matinees and $5 Thursday Night Rush (for tickets purchased the day of performance). 919/821-3111. Note 1: Assistive listening devices are available for all performances, and all performances are wheelchair accessible. Note 2: On April 25th, RLT will provide audio description for those with visual disabilities. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/diary.htm [inactive 6/04]. RLT'S Anne Frank Study Guide: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/diaryguide.pdf [inactive 6/04]. Anne Frank in the World, 1929-1945: Teacher Workbook: http://www.uen.org/utahlink/lp_res/AnneFrank.html [inactive 8/04]. Internet Broadway Database (Original Broadway Production, 1955-57): http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?ID=2533. Internet Movie Database (1959 Film): http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0052738/. Internet Broadway Database (Broadway Revival, 1997-98): http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?ID=4764. The Anne Frank Center, USA: http://www.annefrank.com/. The Anne Frank House: http://www.annefrank.nl/ned/default2.html [inactive 5/04]. U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum: http://www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/online/af/htmlsite/ [inactive 9/04]. Simon Wiesenthal Center: http://www.wiesenthal.com/.