Anne Frank comes alive in be­liev­able tale

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Kevin Prokosh

THREE months be­fore Anne Frank and her fel­low at­tic-dwellers were dis­cov­ered by the Gestapo in 1944, she had writ­ten, “Af­ter the war I’d like to pub­lish a book called The Se­cret An­nex.” There was no af­ter the war for the Jewish teenager, who along with her older sis­ter Mar­got, died of ty­phus in the Ber­gen-Belsen con­cen­tra­tion camp in 1945 and left be­hind her heart-rend­ing diary. She re­mains for­ever the young woman in the at­tic, a cher­ished sym­bol of 1.5 mil­lion chil­dren who died in the Holo­caust. In her sat­is­fy­ing stage drama The Se­cret An­nex — which had its pre­mière at the RMTC Ware­house Thurs­day — Win­nipeg play­wright Alix Sobler has imag­ined an al­ter­nate, ex­tended fate for Anne, Mar­got and the other six hiders in Nazi-oc­cu­pied Am­s­ter­dam. In her Holo­caust hy­poth­e­sis, the girls and Peter, who shared their cap­tiv­ity, un­ac­count­ably sur­vive and make it to Amer­ica, the land of self-cre­ation. It’s 1955 and Anne, 25, is hap­pily room­ing with Mar­got in Brook­lyn, ob­sessed with get­ting The Se­cret An­nex pub­lished, but she finds a world un­in­ter­ested in a chron­i­cle of a young girl’s ado­les­cent prob­lems and ten­sions that arose dur­ing a covert life in cramped quar­ters. Mod­ern Amer­i­can wom­an­hood is rep­re­sented by Vir­ginia Belair, an un­mar­ried, ca­reer book agent mov­ing up the cor­po­rate lad­der, but cau­tious about any mis­step that might give her male bosses a rea­son “to axe the skirt.” She is bru­tally hon­est in her re­view of Anne’s trea­sured script, which she re­gards as bor­ing com­pared to grand sto­ries about cre­ma­to­ri­ums and death marches. She sug­gests her diary needs “a boffo, socko re­write.” Ouch. All of a sud­den Anne is stripped of what made her spe­cial to the world. She must face the tragic irony that people are more mem­o­rable if they die young and hor­ri­bly. Those who live or­di­nary lives are for­got­ten. The rest of The Se­cret An­nex has Anne try­ing to fig­ure out her pur­pose in a world not miss­ing her pub­lished diary. Sobler, to­gether with first-time di­rec­tor Heidi Malaz­drewich, skil­fully wed the power of his­tor­i­cal fact with the al­lure of a what-if sce­nario. Read­ers of the diary will be fas­ci­nated, if not oc­ca­sion­ally taken aback, at wit­ness­ing their beloved Anne in her un­der­wear prior to pre­mar­i­tal sex, dancing the frug and be­ing re­ferred to as “baby doll.” Anne, pulled down from her pedestal by Sobler for a cou­ple of en­ter­tain­ing hours, is still a com­pelling fig­ure as an adult, res­o­lutely con­fi­dent, ad­mirably de­ter­mined, maddingly self-in­volved and unswerv­ingly truth­ful. Toronto ac­tress Tal Got­tfried, in her Win­nipeg de­but, is an easy sell as a grown-up Anne, but more cru­cially cap­tures her spark and al­lure, es­pe­cially with the men in her life. That’s best dis­played in a charm­ing scene in which she in­ter­views for a re­cep­tion­ist job —al­though she has none of the re­quired skills — but man­ages to get hired af­ter sit­ting in the be­guiled boss’s chair. Got­tfried gen­er­ates un­der­dog em­pa­thy that keeps the au­di­ence on Anne’s side through­out her strug­gles. Sobler has more of a blank slate with Mar­got, who gets only a few men­tions in the diary and of­ten didn’t get along with Anne. She is de­picted as the con­ven­tional, placid, no-fuss sib­ling well-played by Daria Put­taert, al­though the un­nat­u­ral-look­ing sec­ond-act wig she wears is a sur­pris­ing faux pas. Peter, who gave Anne her first kiss while in hid­ing, is her link to their ter­ri­ble or­deal. That bond is mixed with deep feel­ings of love that tor­ment Peter. The ever-steady Andrew Cecon looks ideally Euro­pean as Peter, al­though the source of his ac­cent is mys­te­ri­ous. Jennifer Lyon’s Vir­ginia Belair car­ries the weight of thwart­ing Anne’s bid for im­mor­tal­ity, but of­fers some wel­come comic re­lief. Lyon’s per­for­mance as Vir­ginia of­fers a tasty cock­tail made up of mostly blunt­ness with a twist of flak­i­ness. Anne’s Jewish boss Michael Stein, played appealingly by Kevin Kruchky­wich, par­al­lels what the au­di­ence feels about her as he be­comes im­me­di­ately in­trigued with this vi­va­cious young woman, then smit­ten and ul­ti­mately ter­ri­bly wor­ried that she won’t es­cape her at­tic once and for all. The sec­ond act turns much darker on Char­lotte Dean’s ver­sa­tile, tree-flanked set. Sobler gets down to the se­ri­ous busi­ness of giv­ing back what was stolen from Anne: her life, her voice and a happy end­ing. She whips up a be­liev­able sce­nario of what Anne would have done if de­nied her lit­er­ary legacy. If noth­ing else, with The Se­cret An­nex, Sobler has pro­vided an­other artis­tic op­por­tu­nity to keep the mem­ory of Anne Frank alive for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

MELISSA TAIT / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Tal Got­tfried as Anne Frank in The Se­cret An­nex.

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