She may be the best-known individual victim of the Holocaust, so it’s not surprising that presenting “The Diary of Anne Frank,” next on stage at Rockville Little Theatre, has more than a theatrical experience for cast and crew.
It has been a collection of teachable moments.
“I’m thrilled to be directing it,” said Pauline Griller-Mitchell. “My father’s complete family was wiped out by the Nazis, and my mother is from the Netherlands, where Anne Frank, family and friends hid from the Nazis for more than two years.
“I realized how lucky I am to be alive,” Griller-Mitchell added, “so there are a lot of emotional connections.”
Plus, given the rise of racism, anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant feeling, the timing of the production “is “very appropriate,” she said.
Anne’s diary, which inspired several stage and teleplays and films, is the story of a young girl, beginning at age 13, with extraordinary courage and talent.
Fed and protected by non-Jewish friends, the inhabitants of what was called the Secret Annex were eventually captured and sent to concentration camps. Anne’s father, Otto, was the only survivor.
While not having endured the Holocaust, Julia Kashmanian, who plays Anne in the production, can relate.
“I have an Armenian ethnic background, so I have somewhat of a personal concept of genocide,” Kashmanian said. “I wondered, how do we alienate a group of people so much that we cease to view them as human?”
In auditioning for the play, she said she wanted to learn more about the Holocaust, and “grapple” with it.
Part of that learning came not so much during rehearsals of the actual play as during conversations with other cast members and the director sharing family experiences. “It’s great to hear people are so open about it,” she said.
Anne’s personality also drew her to the play.
“I like her brashness,” said Kashmanian, who, as a junior at George Mason University, is portraying someone years younger.
Recently Keith Cassidy, the Otto Frank of the production, played the title role in Neil Simon’s “Jake’s Women,” which he called “the closest I ever came to a guy most like me.”
Otto Frank is different – a person Cassidy admires greatly. It’s also a role he has played before, in addition to directing a production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” in 2007.
“What drew me to the role was the man’s total devotion to his family, which informs every choice and every moment,” he said. “In every conflict, he’s very supportive and very protective.”
This is the first time Cassidy is involved in the play’s adaptation.
Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett wrote the original version, which came to Broadway in 1955.
In 1997, Wendy Kesselman adapted the play.
“The adaptation cuts a lot of lines and a lot of humor – especially in the character of Dussel [the dentist who joins the Secret Annex]. “It gives more of a sense of Jewish culture.”
For Cassidy, one of the play’s strengths lies in characterization. “Every character has a roller coaster of emotion; in one scene, they can go from the depths of despair to heights of ecstasy.”
What makes “The Diary of Anne Frank” different from other Holocaust-era plays, the actor added, is that other theatrical works depict the horrors. This play gives a sense of what was lost.
“During the two hours of the play we get to know and love these people,” he said, “and have a sense of all that was taken away.”
Director Griller-Mitchell also praised the set by Eric Henry, which emphasized the cramped, claustrophobic nature of the Secret Annex.
“The Diary of Anne Frank,” a production of Rockville Little Theatre (Sept. 28-Oct. 7), takes place at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre in the Rockville Civic Center Park. For information, visit www.rlt-online.org/.