Everybody knows something about “The Diary of Anne Frank,” including what ultimately happens to the Jewish girl and her family.
“You know how this ends,” said Kevin Miller, who is directing the play at Rochester Civic Theatre. “But it can’t be a funeral from beginning to end. There is life and humor. These people are trying to create a sense of normalcy.”
Normalcy, in fact, is what has made Anne Frank’s story so compelling for so many people for so many years. Hiding from the Nazis with her family for two years in the attic of an Amsterdam building, Anne recorded her thoughts, hopes, and fears. She grew from a girl of 13 to a young woman of 15.
Despite taking place nearly 75 years ago, the events in Anne’s story are eerily familiar to today, Miller said.
“We’re trying to make a connection with what’s happening in America today and what happened in Europe then,” he said. “I was raised on the myth that that would never happen here.”
But in light of the killings last year at a Pittsburgh synagogue, and other developments, Miller has had second thoughts. He met with a local rabbi to make sure the Civic should be staging the play and that he, a non-Jew, should direct it
“She reassured me we should do this,” he said.
The play is especially important in Rochester, Miller said, because about 140 nations are represented in the city’s diverse population. “We have a moment where we can become a leader in the Midwest,” he said.
The play will be staged in an intimate setting in the Civic’s black box space. A minimalist set will focus attention on the characters and words. The actors will speak without accents.
“We’re trying to not heighten ‘the other,’” Miller said. “You look at these people and say, ‘How can I hate them? There’s no difference between us. They’re just like us.’”
Miller drew a direct connection from the Frank family to families seen as ‘the other’ in America today.
“It’s not lost on us that we’re separating families and locking up kids at the border,” he said. “That’s what happened to Otto Frank’s family.”
Miller also wants to highlight the good Dutch citizens who helped the Franks hide. “They’re risking their lives,” he said. “Every minute I think, ‘What would I have done?’ I don’t know the answer.”
Miller has cast Ella Frank, a Mayo High School freshman, as Anne, with Emma Bransford, a Mayo sophomore, as Anne’s sister Margot. Miller has brought in professional actors Michael Stebbins as Anne’s father and Catherine O’Conner as her mother. Other professionals in the cast are Laurie Dawn, Jon Hegge, Charles Fraser and Jamie Casey.
Recent Winona State graduate Lance Urbick plays Anne’s friend, Peter Van Daan, while Civic stage veteran Rich Dietman is Mr. Kaler.
After so many years, Anne Frank’s story remains heartbreaking in its simple portrait of a hunted people trying to live normal lives.
“I think why this story hits so hard and endures is because it’s universal,” Miller said.