The Secret Annex
Play captures the spirit of Anne Frank
By Byron Toben
It is amazing how the diary of young teenaged Anne Frank, written in 1942-44, while she and seven others were hidden in a attic in Nazi occupied Amsterdam, became a world wide best seller. Her diary, discovered in the rubble of the hiding place, contained the line “I want to be famous, even after my death.”
Two stage versions of the diary (Goodrich and Hackett in 1955, Kesselman in 1977), a 1959 Academy Awards film and a 2001 TV mini series further ensured that she has become famous.
Now comes actor/playwright Alix Sobler who wonders whether Anne’s story would ever have been published had Anne and sister Margot not perished at Bergen-Belsen shortly before U.S. liberation in 1945. This musing resulted in The Secret Annex, which premiered in Winnipeg two years ago. The current production at the Segal Centre is its Montreal premiere.
The play opens in 1955 with Anne, now 25, sharing a Brooklyn apartment with her sister, not far from Peter Van Pels, the lad who had shared their hideout. Doris Day singing All of Me plays in the background. (Ann had a love for Hollywood movies and songs, and had even posted a photo of her favourite, Deanna Durbin on the attic wall). Throughout the play, she purchases current records as the years pass. Click to hear Deanna.
Margot adapts to her new life as does Peter, who moves to Canada. Anne however is determined to have her memoir published. The rejection by a publisher, Virgina Belair, leads to many rewrites, but no acceptance.
What a fine cast has been assembled! Judith Baribeau, as the hard-nosed publisher is perfect as the hard driving woman in what was then a man’s world. Marcel Jeannin as Anne’s eventual American husband, Michael Stein, exhibits his fine versatility, well known to Montreal audiences.
Anne’s obsessed mission to explain who she was and how she endured to future generations colours her relationship to Michael and Virginia and her zealousness even disturbs Margot (Anne Cassar) and Peter (Brett Donahue), the only two who could truly relate to their sequestration, but who, unlike Anne, try to shut it out.
Director Marcia Kash, who has directed The Diary Of Anne Frank three times over the years, is fortunate to have Sara Farb in the lead role. She truly captures Anne’s spirited mix of observation, enthusiasm. selfishness, wonderment, and despite all, hope. Ms Farb recently played Anne to great acclaim at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, so this imaginary sequel is a natural for her.
This is not so much a play about the Holocaust as about a few survivors and their attempted adjustment to a new free life.
The innovative Stratford had introduced a film series and had chosen as its first show Dark Lullabies by Montréal’s Irene Angelico and Abbey Neidick which examines both the children of the survivors and the children of the oppressors. Click to see my review of that documentary.
The Secret Annex continues at the Segal Centre until February 21.
Tickets: 514 739-7944 or segalcentre.org
Images: Andrée Lanthier
Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.