January 29th, 2016
On January 27th, on the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the International Day for the Commemoration of the Holocaust, it seemed only fitting for me to spend my morning at the Segal Centre’s media call for, The Secret Annex , written by Alix Sobler and Directed by Marcia Kash.
At the heart of this play is the question: What if Anne Frank had survived the war? We join Frank as a young woman, alive with the idea of publishing a book based on her now infamous journals.
While the writer’s “what ifs” leads to the intriguing fantasy of the play, it also frames a bigger exploration. As Ms. Kash said to me, while the play focuses on the imagined circumstances of Frank as a survivor, allowing us to explore the complexities of a survivor, it also underlines the loss of a generation of youth and provokes us to think about all the potential that was lost with them.
While the play explores the fantastical, there is no question that it is rooted in historic truth. This is helped along by a cast and director who have an intimate connection to Ms. Frank’s story, in that they have a history of sharing the story of Anne Frank on stage. As such both Marcia Kash and Sara Farb, report feeling the responsibility to do justice to a significant historical figure, while enjoying the opportunity of breathing life into this new imagined Frank.
For Ms. Farb, who for the last year embodied Anne Frank on the Stratford stage, this production, “feels like beautiful closure in some ways. Yet this (play) is a gutsy exploration with infinite possibilities.”
I asked Ms. Farb about the challenges of playing a character that we are so familiar with and have fixed ideas about, yet placing her in such different circumstances. She admits that it can get daunting if you think about it that way, so her focus had to be on embodying the Frank of this play and trusting that the audience is open to this knowing when they come in that this is an imagined Frank.
She credits the playwright for having taken the exuberance and intelligence of the young Frank we have come to know and applying it to her imagined adult Frank. As such, for her, “it is wonderful to imagine the kind of being (Frank) would have been.”
For Ms. Kash, the journey of directing this production started a year and a half ago. Having directed Diary of Anne Frank three times, including at the Segal, Ms. Kash had a wealth of knowledge of the historical to draw on. As such, she reports spending more of her research time on the 50s in New York, which is the setting for this story.
Ms. Kash relates that there is not much that we do not know about Frank as she was, yet this play offers the possibility to discover more about the times after the war. With Frank as a vehicle, we get to explore the survivors’ journey, including issues such as, “guilt, adapting to a new world and of trying to overcome obstacles to embrace life. Ultimately it is about her learning to accept what happened and live a good life for all the millions who couldn’t.”
Watching the scenes presented, I could not help but feel what Ms. Kash later put into words, Frank is “so alive and vibrant in this play, that we are reminded that she did not survive and what a loss that is.”
Such reminders are what ensure that we NEVER forget, and that celebrating life is one way of underlying why.
(L to R) Anne Cassar, Sara Farb and Brett Donahue
The Secret Annex will be playing from January 31st-February 21st