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Remembering the Holocaust: Radford University opens theatre season with ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’
Less than 75 years ago, eight people in Amsterdam were among the thousands who went into hiding from the Nazis during WWII. Of this eight, seven died in German custody, but these particular people, along with countless others in similar circumstances are remembered because a teenage girl’s journaled words remain. Her words – of hope, of restlessness, of growing up, have become for millions since, the humanizing voice for the victims of the Holocaust.
In its season opener Radford University’s Department of Theatre and Cinema brings to life this young girl’s story in “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, and adapted by Wendy Kesselman, this newer iteration of the play is based on Anne Frank’s famous diary chronicling the highs and lows of their self-imposed confinement. When this version was first performed on Broadway in 1997, Natalie Portman played the title role.
“It is a fresh adaptation with just the right mix of world history, Jewish culture and human struggle,” said Assistant Professor of Theater Robyn Berg, who is directing the production. “Anne’s real words guide the text and I think audiences who know the story—and even those who aren’t as familiar with it—will find it easy to invest in the story of eight people hiding from the Nazis in an Amsterdam attic from 1942-44.”
With this production, Berg hopes that audience members will widen their awareness of what happened during the Holocaust – the true horrors and number of lives lost during this not-so-long-ago period of history. Perhaps this awareness will inspire theatregoers to find their voice on issues of prejudice.
Many will relate or empathize with the experiences of a young girl. Though her situation differs greatly from that of most teenagers today, she still faced many of their same daily concerns – hormones, first love, irritations and joy.
Berg cast sophomore theatre major Lexi Cohen in the role of Anne Frank. The director needed an actor who could sustain a high level of energy yet display vulnerability. She needed actor with whom the audience would truly connect. Known for being lively, talkative and a bit of joker, the real-life Anne also maintained a tender quality Berg said. This can be a challenge to portray authentically. She felt Cohen could handle the demanding balance demanded by this role.
“I cast Lexi as Thing 1 in my production of ‘Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat’ last year because she brings an abundant amount of energy to the stage,” Berg said. “While these two shows are very different, the role of Anne Frank actually requires a similar vivacity.”
To remain authentic to Jewish customs, pronouncing Hebrew words correctly, and singing the prayers and songs in the correct melodies, Berg is working with the executive board of Radford University’s Hillel Chapter. In addition, she has reached out to a few Holocaust experts both on campus and in the community who have provided the cast with some invaluable information.
In addition to Cohen, the cast includes Ben Sherman and Eileen Yost as Anne’s parents; Robin McGrath as her sister Margot; Jordan Wommack and Elizabeth Brancati as the van Daans with David Ratliff as their son Peter; Brandon Duncan is Mr. Dussel; Sarah Coleman plays Miep Gies; and Kevin Sutphin portrays Mr. Kraler. Ian Gammarino, who is the Barrack Head and Rauter voiceovers, also appears as a Nazi Officer. Shawn Carver and Daniel McNulty round out the cast as second and third men, as well as voiceovers.
To further highlight the historical context of the play and the significance of the events surrounding it, a talk-back will follow the Oct.14 performance. All audience members are welcome to remain to ask questions and participate in the discussion with this panel of experts.
The production opens in the Pridemore Playhouse Oct. 11 at 7:30 p.m. Other evening performances are Oct. 13 and 14. Matinees are Oct. 15 and 16 at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $10 for general admission; $6 for Radford University faculty and staff, as well as for seniors and groups (10+). Radford University students are free with their student ID. These are available online at rutheatretickets.com. To purchase tickets to the performances in person, they are available the week before the opening at the Porterfield Box Office or by calling 540-831-5289. The box office is open from noon to 6 p.m. and one hour before the start of each performance.
*Tickets for the Oct. 14 and 15 performances of The Diary of Anne Frank are available Sept. 22 online or at the Hurlburt Hall Information Desk (540-831-5420).