The Diary of Anne Frank
Cape Fear Playhouse • 613 Castle St.
11/3-6, 10-13, 17-20, 8 p.m. or
Sunday matinees, 3 p.m.
Few instances worldwide collectively shake the human spirit. Easily, World War II ranks among the top. Allowing world domination by one race and poisonous vitriol running rampant through Nazi blood had countries on alert and, eventually, on the move against the wretched German conquest of so many innocent people. It’s a scene we all recollect from history courses in school, and in Holocaust museums throughout every city, state and country imaginable. It even reminds us of its very real effects and aftermath through literature, as noted in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Diary of a Young Girl,” written by one brave teenager, Anne Frank.
Frank’s diary has become a telling tale of historical significance—perhaps one of the most insightful first-looks at the fear and obstacles Jewish transients endured while hiding for their lives. Only a few weeks after receiving the diary for her birthday did her family go into hiding in Amsterdam, shacked up in close quarters and going stir-crazy for 25 months. Though published in 1947, the dramatization of the story, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” debuted in 1955 after Hollywood writers Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett worked on sharing its insightful bravado near and far. They even researched the Franks’ hideout and visited with Anne’s father, Otto; the show saw much success, including a Tony for Best Play. Today, it continues being one of the most educational, thought-provoking and awe-inspiring stories of global history.
Director Steve Vernon has been busy all year with theatre companies across town, bringing to life Shakespeare’s youthful tales of love in “Much Ado About Nothing,” rebel yells in “All Shook Up” and even flipping a few genders in the Southern classic “Steel Magnolias.” He turns to Big Dawg Productions for his latest venture, taking on a more earnest tone in a story with reverent appeal.
“Approaching a show with more serious themes certainly calls for adjusting your approach, as far as how to handle the material,” Vernon says. “This play and the book on which it is based deserve a level of commitment and emotional investment. There are Holocaust survivors that are still living—and living here. There are people who lost loved ones, and people whose lives were tragically altered or cut short. All of us involved in the show keep that in mind as we approach the material.”
With a dozen cast members sharing stage time, Vernon went through a few tribulations in finding available middle-aged males. Yet, as most kinks happen, it worked itself out in the end, and what the director is now left with is a solid foundation to tell the story. Included among its players are Erika Hendrix, Karen Ann Pray, Charlie Scott Roberston, Molly Lankford, Tom Briggs, Laurene Perry, Nate Kistler, Ashley Grantham, Richard Eisen, Amanda Young, Darryl Tucker and Darrell Rackley.
“What I find most intriguing is how many individuals are affected by and touched by [the story],” he says, “but how few groups of people seem to be immune to it (countries, governments, hate groups).”
Like our modern-day heroes—soldiers, rescue workers, firemen, doctors, teachers—“The Diary of Anne Frank” brings home the normalcy of its characters as everyday citizens, friends and family members. That they were persecuted for their mere heritage seemingly could have been the case for anyone on the hit list of a deranged leader.
“These were just normal people, people who had no idea that their stories would be viewed or read about by millions of others,” Vernon explains. “They became martyrs just like so many other people become martyrs: through circumstance. Whether it’s Anne Frank, James Byrd Jr., Matthew Shepard or one of the hundreds of people who died on 9/11, my feeling is that any of them would have chosen a long happy life with their loved ones over martyrdom. Hate breeds animals disguised as human beings, but it also breeds martyrs.”
Though the subject is touchy, the show itself is filled with sacred remembrance and truth-filled words that are sure to impact. In fact, audiences shouldn’t come expecting to be anything other than affected. Though Vernon and his cast aren’t necessarily adding to its taxing emotion, they are allowing life’s often unprecendented details unfold as they may.
“There are moments that are lighter, and even funny moments, which is exactly how life occurs,” Vernon says. “Depending on the individual, the play can incite sorrow, rage, hope, fear or any myriad of emotions, all of which are applicable to what the people in this story experienced. My favorite moments are the ones where you get to see everyday, normal relationships unfolding, whether they be the beginnings of love, the stress of raising a teenager, the struggle to maintain a family amidst economic tension, things that most of us can identify with.”
The final outcome of “The Diary of Anne Frank” will be carried through exactly as its writers intended: to tell a story that makes its case for betterment of life for all people—a cause we’re still working on throughout humankind even today.
“We do well to remember those who have been lost,” Vernon notes of the show, “but we would serve our fellow man better by also trying to find new ways every day to eliminate the hatred that makes that remembrance necessary.”