Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Powerful Performance

If the object of a drama troupe is to transport the audience directly into the very scenes being portrayed, the BH-BL High School Drama Club accomplished that in a powerful way this past weekend. If you were in attendance, you know exactly what I mean.

Most of us are at least familiar with The Diary of Anne Frank. The play is based on the writings of a young Jewish girl, Anne Frank, who along with her family and a group of Jewish residents of the Netherlands hid from the Nazis for almost two years in a concealed room in the building where Anne’s father worked. Abby VanNostrand did a superb job portraying Anne’s energy, kindness, and zeal for life. Ricky Noel introduced us to her intelligent and loving father Otto. These two were supported with great performances by Sarah McErlean (Anne’s mother Edith), Micaela Slovic (Anne’s sister Margot), Sam Lynch, Kennedy Jobin, and Matthew Rigby (a second family hiding with the Franks), Jacob Ettkin (a local dentist) and Maddy Hicks and Zach Ashcraft (two kindly Christians who helped the family hide).

While I was familiar with the story, I was not prepared for the power with which the students brought this history to life. To begin with, the group was masterful at portraying the friction that arose among the family members as the group spent so many long tense days together. I felt myself wanting to literally “shush” them for fear they would be discovered at several points when their arguments grew loud and heated. Woven throughout this tension was the innocent and ill-fated friendship that grew up between Anne and Peter (Rigby). The connection they created was definitely recognized by the audience when their “first kiss” produced the happiest moment of the tragic drama.

Ironically, just as the Allies were liberating Europe, country by country, the Frank family and their friends fell victim to the hatred and racism of the Nazi regime. The family’s hiding place was betrayed and they were carted off to concentration camps by three Nazi soldiers (Kyle Farmer, Liam Glading, Brandon Burt).  

The most poignant scene of the play occurred at the very end.  Otto Frank returned to the disheveled hidden apartment that had hidden his family for so long. He told us about how each of his family members had been separated and ultimately killed by the hateful Nazi regime. He was the only survivor. Anne had perished in the Bergin-Belsen concentration camp at the age of 15. An anguished Otto cried out in grief and pain. His daughter- once so full of life and optimism- was now dead and buried in a mass grave. The audience was silent.  Otto stooped down and picked up a diary off the floor… left behind by Anne. The house lights went off and the theater was silent. The words of Anne Frank appeared on the back wall of the set: “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”

Each audience member sat in the dark,  processing what they had just seen and heard. We had formed connections with these characters through the artful work of the student actors. Now, through brutal and senseless acts, they were gone. The cast joined hands and bowed their heads and left the stage. There was no curtain call. There was no reprise.

Getting up from my seat and leaving the auditorium was very odd. Most people I looked at had tears in their eyes (so I didn’t feel out of place).  Everyone was either silent, or talking in hushed tones as they walked out.  The experience created by these young actors was not confined to the stage.  The receiving line in the lobby had the feel of an actual wake. The troupe was tired and teary. They were hugging friends and family members. There was a good deal of consoling going on.  As I greeted them and thanked them, more than one of them said to me- “the story needs to be told.”

I would be remiss not to mention the  leadership of Jen Summersell, Eric Shovah, Chris Lombardi, and Ann Derrick and the great work of the Student Crew including Trevor Tuxhill, Simon Goslin, John Lombardi, Zach Bond, Maggie Cuddihy, John DeLucia, Lilly Hogle, Rachel Johnson, Deirdre Kelliher, Nico Petel, Matt Petroski, Alissa Ronca, Alexis Van Buren, and Kayla Van Buren.  The set itself was impressive, realistic, and functional. The special effects were key in transporting the audience to World War II Amsterdam.

I am sure I join many other audience members in saying that I thought deeply about the show for hours after leaving the auditorium. It upset me, it bothered me, it affected me, and it inspired me. And isn’t that the point?