I have been keeping a journal for 17 years. A few months ago, Jacob asked me what my motivation for journaling has been. I answered with a lot of reasons--because I write compulsively, because writing helps me think through things, because I know it will be fun to go back and read about later, because it will be an important record for future generations. But when I thought about the first journal entries I ever penned, and what motivated those, I realized suddenly that it was the diary of Anne Frank.
I was about 12 when I first read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl...one year younger than Anne was when she wrote her first entry. It is one of the most well-loved and oft-read books I own. I still have my original copy--I think I got it as a birthday or Christmas gift. It is one of the few books that survived moving to Oregon, my entire college experience, and various purges/spring cleanings. I've read it so often that I have whole sections of it memorized.
Anne articulated for me so many aspects of growing up, even though our worlds were so different. The feeling of being misunderstood, of being afraid to show anyone your better side in case they laugh at you, of having opinions and thoughts and aspirations that people don't take seriously because you are young. And I know I'm not the only person who felt that way--it's part of why the book has been so well-loved for so long.
Anne Frank's diary gave me courage as a young girl...courage to pursue my dreams and develop my gifts. Her words gave me confidence during lonely times, when friends were hard to come by, or when family members were fighting, or when the world just seemed too big and confusing to be a part of. The diary inspired me to write my own stories and experiences, and this blog exists in part because of that inspiration. This story is very very very dear to my heart, and it always will be.
Until this last week, I'd never seen any adaptation of the story. Not the play, not any film or television. I think I've been afraid of this enormously beautiful part of my life being...well, slaughtered. It would be heartbreaking to have this beloved story told poorly. But I finally girded my loins and headed to the Hale Centre Theatre Orem's production--an old friend was playing Dussell, and I wanted to see his work in this story that I love so much, and to see if the story could really be told on stage. So I sat in the 4th row and watched as ten actors told the story.
And it was beautiful. It was as close to perfect as it could get.
It is an astonishing challenge to portray people who really lived. And for so much of my life, I've seen each character through Anne's eyes...unfeeling Mummy, insufferable Mrs. Van Daan, the shy and dear Peter, the stodgy and foolish Dussell. But the play allowed me to see each character even more fully. Mummy only seems unfeeling because she and Anne don't quite understand each other, but they long for one another's love. Dussell is simply a man set in his ways, and having to go into hiding with two full families is hard on him. Mrs. Van Daan was truly happy when she was young, and her life hasn't turned out quite the way she wanted it to, and that hurts her.
(Part of me wishes I could have seen this show earlier, so that this blog could also serve as a review and a "go see this show!" But closing night was Saturday...oh, the impermanence of theatre.)
The script does a wonderful job of bringing Anne's diary to life, and condensing some of the most important parts into a 2-hour production. There were little details that I noticed and loved--the mention of the Westertoren clock, Anne's moment of talking about the window in her room, the giving of gifts. Anne gives all of these things a lot of thought in her diary, and seeing them nodded to onstage warmed my heart. And the script manages to capture the humor of Anne's world as well as the heartbreak--the anger as well as the love.
HCTO's stage conventions were also perfect choices (and I don't know whether some of these are specified in the script or not). The audience entered through the hidden door that concealed the entrance to the "Secret Annexe"--complete with a bookcase. And as soon as any of the "Secret Annexe members" entered the stage, THEY STAYED ONSTAGE. This included during scene changes (which were done through dimming the lights and a voiceover of one of Anne's diary entries, during which the actors would complete any costume changes), and during intermission. It was such a perfect convention--because the Van Daans, the Franks, and Dussell truly did have to stay there the entire time. Having the actors remain onstage and in character during intermission allowed the audience to see the way they must have spent most of their time, in boredom or in games, in conversation, or resting.
An enormous shout out must be given to each of the actors. I could spend hours singing each of their praises, but I'll just say that their performances were flawless. I think part of my love of the show was simply because what was presented onstage perfectly matched what I've seen in my head for all these years. Often when we dislike some movie or play, it's because what we see on stage or screen DOESN'T match our imagination, but this time, it happened to align perfectly for me. (And a big shout out must be given to Dan Anderson as well, for superb costume design. You've a good eye, sir, and your design heightened the storytelling without distracting from it.)
In all my years of reading "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl," I've only read the afterword a few times. I know the story of what happened to each of the members of the Secret Annexe. But Anne's diary doesn't cover it--we don't hear about the events in her voice. So I've never had to really face it. I've never had to watch the faces of the Van Daans and the Franks and Mr. Dussell as they listened to the sounds of the approaching Gestapo. I've never had to witness their fear and despair as the knocking and hammering got louder and louder. And my heart splintered watching it.
Anne Frank's story is an important one, and a beautiful one. Not only because of the story she tells, but because of the beautiful way she tells it. In one journal entry, she writes:
“I want to go on living even after my death! And therefore I am grateful to God for this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me. I can shake off everything if I write; my sorrows disappear; my courage is reborn. But, and that is the great question, will I ever be able to write anything great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?”
In the tragedy of Anne's story, there is such beauty in knowing that her dream came true. She goes on living, even after her death. And in her own way, she did write something great, and she became both a journalist and a writer.
I know I can't speak for them. But I feel certain that the real Otto and Edith Frank, that the real Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan, that the real Peter, the real Margot, the real Albert Dussell, and the real Anne Frank would be honored and pleased by HCTO's production, even if they would be surprised by it. I'm sure none of them expected their story to become so widely known, but I feel as though the universe gave Anne and each of her Secret Annexe housemates a gift. They get to have their story told, and they stand as voices of the millions whose stories we will never know. I left the production filled with gratitude for both Anne and her diary, and the world of theatre that brought it to life.