The writings of a young girl — musing about life’s mysteries, about arguments with her mother, about ordinary daily events — hardly seem the stuff of great drama.
That is, until you place those writings in the context of the Central Lakes College (CLC) Theatre production of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which opens Oct. 4 in the Chalberg Theatre, with performances running through Oct. 14.
That context is the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam during World War II. The young girl who did the writing was Anne Frank, who went into hiding with her Jewish family to escape Nazi persecution. Their two-year ordeal of living in secret, constantly in fear of discovery, yearning for a better day to come, is chronicled in Anne’s diary and dramatized in the play.
While the story is familiar to most, with the actual diary’s publication and several stage and screen adaptations, the cast discovered much about it that was unknown to them.
“I didn’t realize they went into hiding with another family,” said Mitch Dallman of Pequot Lakes, who plays Peter van Danne, the young son of the second family. “I always thought it was just Anne and her family. Having another family unit there with them added to the tension, but also provided for a lot of interesting interaction.”
“It’s one thing to read about it, and another thing altogether to live it,” said Kadie Jo O’Day of Brainerd, who plays Mrs. van Danne. “Working on the play has really driven home what it means to be in hiding. I would hope we’d never have to actually do that.”
This was a sentiment shared by Charlie Johnson of Brainerd, who plays Dussel, a dentist who joined the two families in hiding. “This is an important story to remember because history has a bad habit of repeating itself,” he said. “We’ve had Bosnia, several countries in Africa, other ethnic cleansing incidents and this is in our lifetimes. The Anne Frank story can’t be seen just as something that happened ‘way back then’.”
For some of the cast, though, it’s the realism of everyday life that strikes home. “I remember being 13 and having arguments with my mother,” said Linda Nichols, the Brainerd native who plays Anne. “I can relate to her feelings toward her mom and dad and sister.” Nichols found challenges in everyday things in doing the part: Learning French phrases, learning to waltz and learning to sing in Hebrew.
“The character is my own age,” said Nicole Barta of Pequot Lakes, who plays Margot, Anne’s sister. “I couldn’t understand the idea of being confined for two years with a small group of people, and having little hope of salvation. What if it happened now?”
Dallman echoed the thought. “These are kids doing what kids do: learning math, studying from books, doing kid stuff.” The context of where they’re doing it, and what the stakes are if discovered, makes the ordinary more compelling, he added.
Other members of the cast reflected on the process or rehearsing the play. “As an actor, this has been eye-opening,” said Craig Friday of Crosslake, who plays Mr. van Danne. “This is a more serious role than any I’ve played. (The play) is absolutely beautiful, honest, raw and real.”
Sharol Gibson-Rude of Brainerd, who plays Edith Frank, spoke of the rehearsals as being “a great process. I haven’t had a director like this before; I feel like I’m learning something.”
The cast also includes Kevin Yeager as Otto Frank, Donna Salli as Miep Gies and Richard Celley as Mr. Kraler. All three are from Brainerd. Completing the cast in the role of soldiers and government officials are Darren Dosh of Little Falls, Jack Friday of Crosslake and Joe Wooden of Brainerd.
The director of “The Diary of Anne Frank” is Erik Steen of Brainerd. Steen is well-known in the area as an actor and director, with directing credits that include “Arsenic and Old Lace” and “How the Other Half Loves” at Pequot Lakes Community Theatre, and “The Laramie Project” and “Perfect Wedding” at CLC. As part of the rehearsal process, the cast was taught songs in Hebrew and given instruction in Jewish customs by local resident Beth Selinger.
“The Diary of Anne Frank” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4-6 and Oct. 11-13. There are two matinees at 2 p.m. on Oct. 7 and 14.
Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $8 for students, with general admission seating. For tickets and information about the show, contact the CLC Theatre box office at 855-8199 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets can also be purchased online at clctickets.com.