Hoopla

TCR play gives voice to Anne Frank's words

"She's telling a story and we become her diary"

Lily Palmersheim stars in the title role of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” opening Friday (3/9) and continuing through March 25 in the auditorium at Theatre Cedar Rapids (Courtesy photo: TINT // A Visual Company)
Lily Palmersheim stars in the title role of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” opening Friday (3/9) and continuing through March 25 in the auditorium at Theatre Cedar Rapids (Courtesy photo: TINT // A Visual Company)
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“Writing in a diary is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I’ve never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl.” — Anne Frank, 1942

Little did she know, that birthday gift would be a gift for the ages. First published in Dutch in 1947 and now translated into more than 60 languages, the diary has captivated the world with the musings of a 13-year-old schoolgirl who hid for two years with seven other Jews in a secret annex above her father’s warehouse and offices in Amsterdam.

Of the eight, only Anne’s father, Otto Frank, survived World War II’s Nazi concentration camps. The others died in various sites, including Anne and her sister, Margot, who contracted typhus after being transferred from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen. The sisters died in either February or March 1945, shortly before the camp was liberated.

Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl, two women who had worked for Otto Frank and were among those assisting the people in the secret annex, found Anne’s diary among other items left behind. Geis locked it in her desk and gave it to Mr. Frank when he returned to Amsterdam from Auschwitz.

The diary has given rise to movies, a ballet, the choral work “Annelies” and various plays, including a 1955 stage version that won the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for drama.

A theatrical revision premiered in 1997, delving deeper into Anne’s emotional and physical development, including previously omitted passages about her awakening desires during puberty. This is the version Theatre Cedar Rapids is bringing to light from Friday (3/9) to March 25 in the auditorium. It’s part of a Linge Series pairing with another award-winning Holocaust drama, “Bent,” being staged in the lower-level Grandon Studio from March 16 to 31.

The annual series, named for longtime TCR benefactors, pairs two productions with aligning themes, presented concurrently in the spring. “Careful consideration is given in selecting titles that not only entertain, but challenge audiences intellectually and emotionally,” according to a staff statement.

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Theater provides an important vehicle for illustrating Anne’s words, director Angie Toomsen said.

“I love the fact that Anne Frank, in a time that people were perhaps a bit more formal, less expressive or demonstrative in life, that she was actually so unencumbered in her diary and shared so much of what she felt, and that she had such a really advanced critical mind and keen powers of observation,” Toomsen said.

“I love that this amazing writing exists and survived past the horrors of the Holocaust and the demise of the people in this annex, and that we get to humanize that story with theater, which is really the goal of theater.

“I also love the fact that structurally it lends itself to imaginative staging, because ... she’s telling a story and we become her diary. We’re where her thoughts and feelings land, so we get to see her point of view in a way that’s highly theatrical.

“As a director and as a cast, it means we get to do some things that aren’t realistic and for me, are more fun, like looking through walls, freezing in the middle of a moment, turning out and exploding with feelings about fighting with (her) mom or frustrations with (her) sister or feelings about this boy.”

Playful moments show the joy the people in the annex managed to find among the reality surrounding them and the millions of other Jews and marginalized members of society slain during the Nazi reign of terror.

The play has been an eye-opening experience for Lily Palmersheim, 16, of Cedar Rapids, who is bringing Anne to life.

“It’s important to get the message out,” she said.

A sophomore at Cedar Rapids Washington High School, she hadn’t read the diary in any classes, but did know of its literary significance in terms of the Holocaust, and learned more as she read the script.

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“It’s very, very sad that these people had to go through that,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine doing that.”

She worries it could happen again.

“We had a talk with our director, Angie Toomsen, and she (said) the Holocaust came out of nowhere — it just appeared,” Palmersheim said. “With all the stuff that’s going on now, you don’t know what could happen. For the Frank family and the Van Daans and Mr. Dussel, they didn’t suspect that they had to go into hiding and live that life for two years — and then they got caught and they were killed just because like just because of their religion. ...

“Without the diary, if her dad didn’t recover this and share it with the world, a big part of the Holocaust and what people had to go through would be missing.”

Tad Paulson, 47, of Iowa City, said the role of Otto Frank “speaks so strongly” to him.

“He’s such a great character and an amazing historical figure,” Paulson said. “What he lost and how he processed that and made something out of his loss — how he basically continued to live for his daughters. It’s riveting to me. Heartbreaking.”

It’s a situation that continues to emanate in genocide around the world, Toomsen said, and in hate speech Paulson sees daily on social media.

“It’s clearly still an issue,” he said, pointing to continued human sadism and discrimination.

“I have a genuine fear that it could happen again. I think we all do, and so I think the story has to be told over and over again to try and provide some sort of counterweight to those forces,” he said.

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“I would love for there to be a time where the play is something that’s kind of antiquated, that’s sort of out of date. ‘Oh that would never happen again. We don’t need to tell that story anymore, it can just go to dust.’ But we’re not there yet — not even close really.”

Get out!

  • WHAT: “The Diary of Anne Frank”
  • WHERE: Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE
  • WHEN: Friday (3/9) to March 25; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday
  • RATED: PG
  • TICKETS: $22 to $33, TCR Box Office, (319) 3660-8591 or Theatrecr.org
  • RELATED: Local and national lobby displays with timelines from Anne Frank’s life and the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, March 7 to 31, and during performances; Beyond the Stage discussions at Theatre Cedar Rapids and the Cedar Rapids Public Library; Theatrecr.org/attend/beyondthestage/

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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