When Otto Frank gave his daughter Anne a red and white checked “autograph” book for her thirteenth birthday, he had no idea that her daily scribblings in that little book would forever immortalize her and her family to the world. For less than a month later, the Frank family would go into hiding in the secret annex hidden away above Mr. Frank’s business. And, for the next two years, Anne’s innermost thoughts and feelings would be memorialized on paper – letters written to “Dear Kitty” – as she grew to 15 hidden away with her parents, her sister Margot, the Van Pels/Van Daan family (Hermann, Auguste, and son Peter), and dentist Fritz Pfeffer/Dussel.
“I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.” Anne Frank, Friday, June 12, 1942
When World War II ended, only one family member remained alive. When Otto Frank returned to Amsterdam, he was given his daughter’s diary, which had been salvaged after Nazi soldiers ransacked the annex and arrested its inhabitants in 1944. Each was sent to concentration camps, and all died within the next few months. Only weeks before Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was liberated, Anne died from typhus.
Anne’s diary was first translated into English in the early 1950’s, with the novel inspiring a Broadway play in 1957 and an Academy Award nominated film in 1959. The first stage version of “The Diary of Anne Frank” by authors Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett premiered On Broadway in 1955 and ran for more than 700 performances. In 1995, playwright Wendy Kesselman was commissioned to adapt the original play, winner of both Pulitzer and Tony Awards, to include information which was later added to the diary. Kesselman’s adaptation opened on Broadway in 1997, starring Natalie Portman as Anne. Kesselman’s adaptation of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, a LatinX production, returns for a limited engagement at the Complex Theatre in Hollywood.
The true story plays in chronological order, beginning on July 6, 1942 with the Nazi Occupation of the Netherlands. Otto (Bernard Bullin), his wife Edith (Tashe Dixon), and his two daughters Margot (Nikki Mejia) and Anne (Genesis Ochoa) are forced into hiding when 16-year-old Margot is summoned to a Nazi “labor camp” while more and more Jews “disappear.” Little do they know that they will be living in the annex for two years. Weeks later, Frank’s business partner Mr. Van Daan (Robert C. Raicch)), his wife (Raquenel), and their son Peter (David Gurrola) join the Frank family in hiding. Finally, the last addition to the annex arrives, dentist Mr. Dussell (Raymond Abel).
Skillfully directed by Stan Zimmerman, THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK examines the lives of eight people thrown together under the worst possible circumstances – the fear of death. Given that the play is produced by LatinX, it is not surprising that subtle undercurrents compare the current illegal immigrant crisis and the Jewish/Nazi crisis of World War II. In Act One, all characters are attired in gray hoodies inspired “from news reports of parents reunited with their kids whose clothes had been taken away and replaced with government-issued gray hoodies (familiesbelongtogether.org).”
The ensemble cast does a terrific job of defining the multiple stresses of this small group, both those arising from the dangerous situation and also from the personality quirks of each trapped individual – with the childlike exuberance of Anne standing out. It is not surprising that Genesis Ochoa received a best actress nomination from “Broadway World” for this production. She manages to turn a dreary, stultifying landscape into “an adventure.”
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK is a poignant, moving tale, a must-see for anyone with ties to or interest in the epoch. This production also draws parallels to the present which cannot be ignored. It’s an important show for audiences from eight to eighty. Entertaining? Yes. Thought provoking? Absolutely.
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK runs through February 24, 2019, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 8 p.m. on Sundays (no shows Friday-Sunday on February 1 through February 3). The Dorie Theatre @ The Complex Theatres is located at 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90038. For information and reservations, call 323-465-0383.