Since her death nearly 50 years ago, Anne Frank has become an icon of purity and innocence in a world gone mad. This historical saga of a young Jewish teen-ager coming of age while hiding from Nazi terror for two years in an attic with her family and friends is almost always a school child's introduction to the horrors of the Holocaust.
Anne Frank's beatification began with the publication 50 years ago of the diary she kept in that attic that was recovered after her death in a concentration camp--"The Diary of a Young Girl," which became an instant best-seller. It continued with the 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, The Diary of Anne Frank by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, and the subsequent film adaptation, both of which served also to Americanize the Dutch-born girl of German ancestry who was raised in Amsterdam.
"We Americans tend to like our heroes simplified and sugar-coated," says Scott Kanoff, who is directing a production of the Goodrich-Hackett drama that runs through May 17 at the Cleveland Play House, where he serves as Literary Manager and Resident Director. "But my concern with this production is to demystify Anne Frank, to show her with all the battiness and selfishness of a 13-year-old as well as the wonderful creature who evolved after two years in that attic with those people. I'm trying to keep her in the real world, with both feet on the floor."
Kanoff says that he has been greatly helped in this endeavor by Rebecca Feldman, who stars as the fateful heroine ("She moved me to understand the profound loss of Anne Frank's death") and by the recent disclosures of more telling and sensual details of the diary, which had been expurgated by her father before he published the diary. Kanoff, however, is not allowed to include these in his production, as director James Lapine plans to do in his Broadway revival later this year.
"She obviously was a sensual character," says Kanoff in talking about Frank's relationship with the teen-aged son of a couple who was sharing space in the attic, "but the aim is to present an evolution of a total point of view. Being Jewish and reading her diary when I was young, I was struck by how mature and astute and smart Anne Frank was, and we hope to communicate all that. There is that first date, that first kiss, but it's not a major concern . . . Anne Frank really knew that this relationship wouldn't have gone anywhere in the outside world . . . it makes her growing awareness of her womanhood all the more moving if it is understated." The production is just one of the events co-sponsored by the Play House and the National Conference, which will also include an international touring photo exhibit, a speaker series, school programs and a candlelight vigil. Twelve-thousand school children are expected to attend the play, and Kanoff hopes they will come away with a better understanding of the insidious workings of racism and the indomitability of the human spirit.
"Anne Frank's legacy is the need for us to respect one another," he says. "I think that prejudice and discrimination begin with a lack of respect for the individual. She herself was an iconoclast, and what she teaches us is the resourcefulness of the individual, the urge to go forward, to live and grow even while surrounded by utter chaos." Frank's most famous line from the diary and play--"In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart"--is also viable in an age grown weary of cynicism. But Kanoff sees it more as a preamble to the life that was tragically snuffed out than the resolution of its drama. "That line is not the sum total of what Anne Frank left to us," he says. "She was a lot more complex than that."
-- By Patrick Pacheco