First City Players Honors The Hope, Grace and Beauty
Of "The Diary of Anne Frank"
By Sharon Lint
March 09, 2005
Such was the reaction of the cast, crew and audience of "The Diary of Anne Frank" at Ketchikan High School last Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Produced by First City Players and directed by Elizabeth Nelson, it was not an easy play to direct, perform, or watch, but it was more than worth the effort.
The proof that it was difficult for the audience to watch was evident immediately after the stage lights dimmed and the house lights went up. Most faces in the Kayhi auditorium wore an expression of stark, overwhelming horror. The usual chitchat was noticeably missing. There were a few exceptions, but for the most part, a palpable silence hung in the air above everyone. Most women were in tears and the men seemed dazed. A few teenagers wore uncomfortable smiles, not sure how to deal with such naked emotions and still appear cool. All moved slowly.
It took me a few hours to absorb all that had happened on stage. The trauma was slow to fade. Not yet ready to face anything but tiny specific facts, I focused on the cramped and crowded furnishings of the Annex. I recalled how Anne and the others had removed their shoes each day so as not to make too much noise, how they had lived in that small, overcrowded space for over two years without seeing the sunshine or feeling the breeze, how they had frozen in fear at the sound of a siren. I remembered again watching the beginning of the play: the dark stage as the house lights dimmed and the sounds of happy, chirping birds filled the auditorium. How the stage lights came up as Anne (Krystina Fabry) and the others entered, their lives changing forever as they took up residence in the Annex.
I remembered Anne's voice as she began to speak.
"July sixth, 1942. . ."
As the play progressed within the drab and dull microcosmic world for eight, Anne was cheerful, the others somber. Knowing what fate had in store for all of them, it was hard to accept the sunny twitter of Anne's personality when I was so vividly aware of what loomed in her future.
For I knew the story well. I had studied the autobiographical drama of this young Jewish girl when in grade school. The very real nightmare of Anne's life was narrated within her diary. She related the experience of hiding from the Gestapo and the Nazis during World War II. She and her family had shared space in the annex of a factory with another family for over two long years. Although all in the small group had tried to stay hopeful, the circumstances were dire, the attic was claustrophobic and the tension was thick and grew even thicker throughout the months of confinement.
Those were the facts I remembered from childhood. But, what I did not remember - or perhaps I was too young to perceive - were Anne's magnificent words that embodied her nobility and her great lust for life. Her words are inky buckets filled with truths; Beauty and Goodness and Grace and Hope and Love and - yes, even Evil - for Anne's fearless and unrelenting pen steadfastly refused to conceal anything behind dishonesty or hyperbole. She was and is awe-inspiring.
So too are the actors of First City Players. Fabry - herself only 14 years of age - was brilliant as Anne. She did a great job of depicting Anne's growth. From the first act to the second, Anne was discovering things about the others around her and about herself. Intrigued by Peter Van Daan (Colin Alexander Patton), and her own strange feelings as a blossoming woman, she experiences her first kiss. Fraught by nightmares at night and frustrated by strict confinement during the day, we also witness her constant turmoil as she tries to keep up a positive attitude of cheer and hope. It was an excellent performance by Fabry.
As was that of her fellow actors.
They met and matched Fabry's talent with superb skill and artistry.
They were all as good as you'll ever see in a show such as this,
off or on Broadway.
Likewise, Wayne Phillips (Anne's
father Otto) appeared to share that ability as he walked a tight-rope
between being optimistic for the sake of his beloved Anne, even
while in reality being overcome with weariness and doubt. Phillips'
Otto was very, very good. Firm in his resolution to keep his
family safe and all together, somehow Phillips' Otto displayed
love and tenderness on the backdrop of weighty worry that he
could have done something else or should be doing something more.
If Fabry was the play's perceptive innocent, Phillips was the
Colin Alexander Patton was excellent as the sweet, shy boy Peter who was far more at ease with a cat than with the pubescent Anne. Likewise, Megen Van Cleave and Alejandro Chavarria were on point with their characters of Miep Gies and Mr. Kraler as the Dutch nationals who brought snippets of the outside to the hidden world of the Annex.
Terry O'Hara and Clare Patton played Hermann and Petronella Van Daan with flair. Early in the play, they served mainly as comic relief, but as the show continued on, their status changed to one of a more serious nature. The scene as Patton railed against O'Hara's decision to sell her fur coat was more than it might appear at first glance. The coat, a gift from her father, was not just a luxury, a statement of status, or an object of vanity. This last shred of Petronella's past was a symbol of her dignity, heritage and worth. Her bowed head as she accepted the inevitable loss of the coat foreshadowed the fate of the group extremely well.
There was a second scene in which O'Hara and Patton excelled too. Their acting was more than superb when, at the peak of Mr. Van Daan's villainy, Patton comforts O'Hara with the loving words, "... and the next time you are hungry ... hold onto me." The scene was a heart wound. No doubt those that saw it will remember it for a very long time.
As the end of the play loomed, the Nazis entered the Annex. Anne and the others were pushed, shoved, shouted at, and abused. Dignity was wrenched from them. They became less than human in the eyes of their captors. In the confusion of the arrest, Anne's diary was left behind. The small group was herded out of the Annex, their lives now moving toward terror and death. The lights went out, the sirens blared.
There was a silence. A pause that seemed too long. Then something rustled on stage. A voice began to narrate. A different voice this time. Not Anne's.
"Westerbork. A barren heath. Wooden towers where our jailers stand guard . . ." It was Phillips' voice, providing a catharsis in the quiet, gut-wrenching scene that recounted the terror that came after their arrest. It's a tight-wire act and he did it extremely well.
His voice broke as he brought the horror to life with his words. "The train," he wept. "The Train. Three days, three nights . . ."
The images that Phillips brought to us as he spoke of the deaths of each loved one pulled hidden emotions from layered depths. He spoke openly of things not spoken of in polite company. Even worse, he made us all admit we are capable of all kinds of evil and sin. Hatred, Envy, Pride, Greed, Lust, Gluttony, Sloth. All ours.
The stage lights dimmed, went dark, and then came back up again. The cast stood on stage. The audience stood and clapped until the curtain fell. The play was over.
The reality hit hard. The horror dawned. Anne was dead. It was a bad ending to a play, but it was a reality. It is truth. And that is what Anne was all about.
Yes, she died in a camp; alone, naked, filthy, hungry, abused, diseased, young, but the words in her diary refused to die. They remind us that although humans are capable of great evil, we are also capable of great good, that each soul born into in this world is entitled to life and dignity and that each person is a priceless treasure.
If you missed First City Player's production of "The Diary of Anne Frank" try to see it on stage elsewhere if you can. Take some Kleenex with you. You'll most likely cry. Wear waterproof mascara. Take your sunglasses if you must. But go. It's a difficult play to watch, but it truly is worth the effort.
Be warned though - the first act may hold you prisoner in your seat, the second act may ravage your sensibilities, the ending may devastate you, but, the aftermath -- ah, the aftermath -- it will fill you with a new appreciation for life, beauty and freedom.
We are all so much more than just the outward dust of our fragile bodies.