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<em>Anne Frank</em> via Zoom

Park Square Theatre’s Zoom presentation of The Diary of Anne Frank (Screenshot)

Theater

Anne Frank via Zoom

A new format heightens classic story's emotional impact

Available free online only through May 24 is the most creative and emotional rendition of The Diary of Anne Frank you may ever see. Streaming has already been extended several weeks because of the international attention it has garnered, with no plans for further extensions.

Park Square Theatre, a small theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, was about to open its 21st production of the play when COVID-19 hit. No more stage productions allowed. But rather than quashing the presentation, director Ellen Fenster got creative and rallied the troupe to put on a first-ever Zoom performance of Anne Frank, originally made for stage in 1955.

That’s right, the Zoom you’ve been using to teleconference your work colleagues, join your small group at church, and listen to orchestra members connect to play Beethoven’s fifth, is now a format for theater. The 10-member cast had already been practicing lines using Zoom, so they seized the suggestion to go virtual rather than let the curtain fall.

Billed as “a special online production created by artists in isolation,” this adaptation of Anne Frank’s hiding in the secret annex is particularly apropos considering the isolation today’s pandemic is causing around the world. But viewing it will leave you counting your blessings instead of your days without dining in a restaurant.

The true story tells how Anne, her sister, and her parents, along with another family and one other man, all Jews, hid from the Nazis in the attic apartment behind Anne’s father’s office in Amsterdam. They lived there for more than two years, from June of 1942 to August of 1944.

Each character inhabits a Zoom square with a different neutral background and uses minimal props. Characters appear and disappear as the dialogue and scene suggest, and the personal nature of the players looking directly into the camera heightens the emotion of each line. I empathized with Anne’s adolescent ruminating and older-than-her-years philosophizing. I could feel my own temperature rise watching family members struggle to get along in close quarters, share rations, and wait, wait, wait.  

The simplicity of the format and close-up expressions of each wonderfully well-cast actor are surprisingly effective. I didn’t expect to be so drawn in, especially because I’d seen the actual play in the same theater years earlier. That production was moving. This was even better.

Screenshot

(Screenshot)

Sulia Rose Altenberg portrays Anne, and has found the right balance of innocence and angst. In one conversation with Peter, Anne says, “We are not the only people that have had to suffer—I know it’s hard trying to have faith when people are doing such horrible…. The world is going through a phase and it will pass.”

Michael Paul Levin, playing Anne’s father, is believable as the patriarch trying to buoy up the attic occupants, maintain peace, love his family well, and remain ever-hopeful. The last scenes of the play, watching each face as the reality of what is happening dawns, are even more gripping and dramatic than the stage version.

This is best watched if you’re already familiar with the Anne Frank story—your mind fills in missing details. Characters take God’s name in vain at times, and Anne euphemistically talks to her diary about becoming a woman. Anne innately believes that people are really good at heart, which makes the reality that much sadder. Stream free at parksquaretheatre.org