Almost everyone in Western society is familiar with Anne Frank, a Jewish teenager who lived and died during World War II. Anne achieved posthumous fame through her diary – a chronicle of her daily life while hiding from the Nazis – which was uncovered and published almost eighty years ago. One especially observant and thoughtful girl’s account of growing up under impossible and traumatic circumstances, the diary has been translated into multiple languages and read throughout the world.
Anne’s story was also brought to the stage in 1955. Adapted by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and starring Joseph Schildkraut, “The Diary of Anne Frank” went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for the authors, as well as the Tony and N.Y. Drama Critics Circle Awards for best play. A film followed in 1959 which earned an Oscar for Shelly Winters as best supporting actress. In 1997, the original play was revised by Wendy Kesselman.
But then a new version was proposed which would reflect more accurately this bubbling, eternally hopeful teen for today’s audiences. Commissioned by Anne Frank Fonds, the Swiss charitable foundation created in 1963 by her father, ANNE, A NEW PLAY was written by Jessica Durlacher and Leon de Winter and first presented in Amsterdam in 2014 before King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and an audience of 1000. A resounding success, the play was adapted by Nick Blaemire and translated by Susan Massotty for production in the U.S. ANNE, A NEW PLAY opened in June 2019 – celebrating Anne Frank’s ninetieth birthday – at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
ANNE, A NEW PLAY takes a different perspective from earlier stage depictions of her life. In the current production, Anne (Ava Lalezarzadeh) has survived the Holocaust and meets a publisher (Timothy P. Brown) in Paris who finds her story fascinating. As she begins to tell him the events in the Annex, they take on a life of their own. Anne is again surrounded by her family – her parents Otto (Rob Brownstein) and Edith (Andrea Gwynnel) and her older sister Margot (Marnina Schon) – and the other residents of the tiny hidden home above a commonplace Amsterdam warehouse – Herman van Pels (Aylam Orian), his wife Auguste (Mary Gordon Murray), their son Peter (Kevin Matsumoto), and dentist Mr. Pfeffer (Tony DeCarlo).
What happens in their secret hideaway differs little from other versions of the tale. The most intriguing change is in Anne herself, who emerges from earlier characterizations as a relatively passive child just entering puberty and blossoms into a lively, keenly observant adolescent who can be irritable, spiteful, innocently sexual – and all the other personality issues found in most teenagers struggling for autonomy as they flaunt parental, and especially maternal, guidelines. With, of course, one exception: Anne is trapped in a few feet of space with seven other individuals, none of whom wants to be there and each of whom is trying to harness his terror and maintain his sanity.
Skilled director Eve Brandstein does an excellent job of creating a parallel universe as the adult Anne deals with the child Anne just beginning to come into her own. The ensemble cast does a powerful job of portraying these ill-fated participants as they survive day-to-day. Kudos to Ava Lalezarzadeh, who breathes life into Anne, a child on the brink of life – who will never make it. The actors are at turns happy, sad, hopeful, poignant, fearful – a kaleidoscope of emotions – as they just try to exist for another day. ANNE, A NEW PLAY is definitely worth an evening. It is entertaining while being thought-provoking, intense, provocative, and inspiring.
ANNE, A NEW PLAY runs through July 22, 2019, with performances at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays and at 8 p.m. on Mondays. The Museum of Tolerance is located at 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035. Tickets are $40 (seniors $25, students $20). For information and reservations, call 310-772-2505 or go online.