What makes Marshall Hughes’ presentation of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (playing through Nov. 3rd) exceptional, aside from the lovely production, are the guest speakers he has invited to bear witness to genocide in all corners of the world today.
At today’s performance, Elfadel Arbab recounted his horrific escape from Darfur, where Sudanese soldiers set fire to his village, trapping families in their homes in order to eradicate any evidence of their existence. Since these villagers have no birth certificates, when their bodies are burned, the government can claim the genocide never happened. Arbab only escaped when a thick plume of smoke from an oil fire gave him cover.
Emerald Johnson read a frightening account of four women in Rwanda who spent ninety days in a tiny bathroom, expecting to be discovered by Hutu soldiers every minute of the day and night. One of the four Tutsis voiced their ordeal as “dying alive…a thousand times.” Hughes works these accounts seamlessly into the body of the play, to remind us that genocide did not end with the Nazis, despite promises of “Never Again.”
Wendy Kesselman’s remarkable new version of ANNE’s story weaves in historical material so that when her benefactress, Miep Gies (Holly Newman) arrives with food, she brings disturbing news (for us as well as the Frank family) of trains departing once a week… then twice a week for the camps. We still marvel at their patience with daily life hiding in a storage loft in Holland--- but the timeline information grounds the story and makes their suffering even more visceral. Kesselman gives license to the adult concerns (about why the Allied forces were taking so long) which Anne might not have known or written about in her diary.
Ron Murphy’s sonorous baritone echoes through the play with Hebrew songs of prayer. Anne (Whitney Sandford) and her sister (Lauren Foster) join their mother (Lida McGirr) and father (Cliff Blake) in sharing quarters with another family (Chris Wrenn, Julie Draper and Ethan Hermanson) and a stranded dentist (Francesco Tisch). Everyone handles the material beautifully, with McGirr adding gentle humor in the early scenes and searing torment in the latter. Blake adds depth to the steady father role and delivers the devastating final account of their fates so powerfully, you cannot help but sob in your seat.
Foster adds sweet vocals in the cramped Hannukah celebration. Hermanson makes a charming boyfriend for Sandford’s Anne. Alas, the RCC acoustics cause some of the dialogue to be lost, but the emotions come through completely.