“For more than two years, we have lived in fear,” says Otto Frank when he hears news of the Allied invasion of Normandy in June, 1944.
“Now we can live in hope.”
Ironically, that hope was short-lived.
Otto Frank, his wife Edith and daughters Margot and Anne; along with Hermann Van Daan, Petronella Van Daan, Peter Van Daan, and Jan Dussel, were captured by Nazi troops a few weeks later and sent to concentration camps. All but Otto Frank perished before the camps were liberated.
The story of how these eight people were able to survive in a small loft in an Amsterdam factory while hiding from the Nazis would simply have been another forgotten chapter of World War II, if it had not been for a diary left behind by Anne Frank, who was only 13 years old at the time she went into hiding.
The diary recounts, with a child’s naivete, wisdom and insight, all the fear, frustration, loneliness and anger that comes from a life in captivity.
But it also reveals another, more powerful side of the human spirit; one that shines with joy, love, friendship and hope. Anne Frank wrote of her faith in the future, even as the world was falling down around her.
The original script of the Diary of Anne Frank, first performed in New York in the early 1950s, is both tender and raw. And in the hands of the talented cast and crew of Martensville High School, it fairly came to life. For two hours, the audience was transported to a time and place that we might like to forget, but which we dare not.
Anne Frank, played by Grace Flegel; and Otto Frank, portrayed by Brendan Butler, are the two foundations to which the rest of the characters cling. Otto is the calm, logical voice of reason who keeps things on an even keel; while Anne is the emotional wind vane who breathes life and spontaneity into their dreary but safe sanctuary.
The dialogue is simple, but heavy with inferences. We read on the faces of the actors the words that are left unsaid.
Edith Frank (Cassidy Funk) and Margot Frank (Avery Smith) are quiet, restrained and supportive. Hermann Van Daan (Steven Baldwin) and his wife Petronella (Katherine Daku) are prone to outbursts, while their son Peter (Connor Hamelin) is withdrawn and has difficulty trusting anyone but Anne. Jan Dussel (Dylan Berk) is both irritable and insightful.
Victor Kraler (Noah Fehr) and Miep Gies (Greta Strueby) are the only two characters who are not on stage throughout the entire play. They’re the link with the outside world, bringing both food and news. The food is limited; the news is bad; but the prisoners are grateful for whatever they can get.
It’s a credit to the young cast, and to director Micah Robinson, that they were able to reach beyond their years and convey such depth in their characters.
The set’s shabby and worn furniture mirror the monotony of the characters’ life, while the unfinished, rough rafters and posts create a sense of devastation – like the skeletal remains of a building after the bombs have fallen.
The play was shown to students from area schools prior to three dessert theatre performances slated for this weekend. In the performance on Wednesday, February 7, you could have heard a pin drop. The audience of Grade 9 and 10 students was spellbound through the entire play.
For the young actors on stage, the drama was a life-changing experience.
“We’re all different people from before we started this play,” said Grace Flegel in an interview after the February 7 performance. “The biggest thing, for me, is how important the family is to each character. They were hiding, but the love and support from each character was what got them through the tough times.”
Katherine Daku agreed, noting the lessons of history are also important.
“Our past may not be something we are proud of, but it is something we can learn from,” said Daku. “We watched an interview with Miep done after the war, and she talked about how extraordinary all these people were. We wanted to convey that in this play. It’s a very moving story.”