Monique Elliot speaks with members of Phoenix Players, an Ottawa community theatre group rehearsing its new production of The Diary of Anne Frank, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning drama
A new Ottawa production of The Diary of Anne Frank, the theatrical adaptation of Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl will debut next month with a new, local cast that said it is committed to revitalizing the spirit of the inspirational narrative.
In her diary, the teenaged Anne Frank documented her thoughts and some historical notes, while hiding from the Nazis with her Jewish family in an Amsterdam attic during the Second World War.
The Franks were eventually betrayed and discovered by the Nazis in 1944. Anne’s diary was kept hidden by a family confidant until it was returned to Otto Frank, Anne’s father and the only member of the family to survive the Holocaust.
Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett adapted the diary into a theatrical script, which won the 1956 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The original Broadway production won both the Tony Award and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play, among many other accolades.
For lead actress Marie-Pier Jean, 15, playing the role of Anne is the fulfilment of a long-held dream.
“I think she’s such a heroic character,” Jean said, noting that what Anne experienced is something most people of her generation cannot comprehend.
“For me to be able to, if I can say, be her, in a play, is an honour for me. She’s such a big part of history.”
This production marks the second time Phoenix Players director Tim Picotte has directed the award-winning play. The first time was more than two decades ago, and Picotte said he decided it was time to revisit the life of the Jewish teen whose penchant for storytelling changed the way millions of people have come to understand the horrors of the Holocaust.
“It’s going to move the audience. As a director, you want to pick a show that moves and gives the audience an experience. This is going to be it,” he said.
Picotte and the crew said they are using the power of lighting, sound and technology – through the use of a drop-down screen for a short slideshow – to elicit strong emotional responses from the audience.
The unique set designed for this production is causing excitement among the cast and crew. Picotte said his vision was to create an imposing, symbolic and ultimately realistic representation of the cramped reality of eight people living in an attic for more than two years.
“We elevate the rooms of the children to create islands of isolation,” Picotte said, adding that the symbolism hidden within the set will be central to the main themes of discrimination and oppression.
“What I like about how Tim directs shows is that he really goes deep into the feelings, emotions and evolution of the characters,” Jean said of the levels of complexity the audience can discern while watching.
“I think strength, overall, is the biggest theme we can find in the show, in my opinion because every [character], at some point in the show, breaks down. And, at other times, it’s their turn to be strong. And we can really see that contrast. Tim is really making that come through.”
“It’s a play that everyone can connect with,” said Ellen Clare O’Gallagher, president of Phoenix Players and production manager for the show. “It’s a play about the terrible consequences of intolerance.”
O’Gallagher added that this is contrasted with joy, discovery and humour because Anne is an extremely relatable character.
“She’s just a young girl,” she said.
Picotte said he hopes there will be a strong turnout among youth not yet familiar with Anne’s story.
“They just don’t know. So it’s time. It’s time to remind them,” he said.
Evening performances of The Diary of Anne Frank will take place from April 10 to 12 and April 15 to 19 at 7:30 pm, with matinees on April 13 and 19 at 2:30 pm at the Gladstone Theatre, 910 Gladstone Avenue. Following the matinee on April 13, the cast will stay on stage for a talk-back with the audience to discuss the play and their performance and respond to questions from the audience.
Tickets are $18 (adults) and $15 (students and seniors) and can be purchased at the door or in advance at www.thegladstone.ca or by calling the box office at 613-233-4523.