There’s a saying: All roads eventually lead home. Though as Moses found out, that journey can sometimes take a few decades longer than expected. It all started innocently enough.
Two months ago, when I reviewed Cat On A Hot Tin Roof at Compass Rose Theater, I noticed they were next producing Diary of Anne Frank, a play about the Holocaust. I mentioned nonchalantly to Artistic Director Lucinda Merry-Browne that I’d once performed the role of Mrs. Van Daan. Well then, she said, you should audition: here’s the date. Be there at 5.
What I failed to mention was that that production was over forty years ago. I was 17, in Bowie High School, playing a middle aged woman with a 16 year old son.
Allow me to tell you a bit about my family history: I am the daughter of a German Jew who, along with his siblings, escaped the Nazis. His parents and extended family were not so lucky, and most of my father’s relatives perished in the war. So… yeah, there’s some personal history with this particular play.
When I told my father what play my high school was doing, he warned me that he might not be able to manage seeing the show, that it would be too much for him. Yet at the last minute he changed his mind, and one of my most vivid memories is of him standing at the end of the long hallway outside the multipurpose room’s stage, after the show, waiting to congratulate me. You look just like your grandmother in that fur coat, he said.
Fast forward to college and the years beyond: I graduated from the University of Maryland, with a BA in Theatre. Intending to be an actress, I moved to New York for two years and discovered only the starving side of a starving actor’s life. Moving back here, though, I was luckier, and realized my hopes of making a living in theatre. For many years I was a full time professional puppeteer, first with other companies and then with my own, Beale Street Puppets.
I managed to stay in the game by doing everything and anything that would pay: costumes, props, technical, commercials, performing at nursery schools, teaching standup comedy, you name it. I worked on cruise ships as an entertainer and performed puppetry at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Istanbul Festival of Puppetry. I married, had two sons, and figured out how to supplement motherhood and puppetry by selling antiques on Ebay and writing online theatre reviews.
I did it all, and thought I did not miss the stage itself or rehearsals or directors or other actors or stage fright.
And yet… I did go to that audition. You know I did. Why not, I thought- I won’t get the part, this is a professional company! Even if I do, I can’t possibly make the time to be in a play– I’m safe. Nothing will happen. It’ll be okay. Don’t panic.
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK
March 18 – April 17, 2016
Compass Rose Theater
49 Spa Road
Annapolis MD 21041
And then … you know what happened. Of course you know. Against all odds and even, so I thought, my own wishes, I got the part. Forty-two years after I first played Mrs. Van Daan, a middle aged woman with a sixteen year old son, I, now a middle aged woman with a nineteen year old son and a sixteen year old son, am back in her costume.
My father, Richard (Kaiser) Kyle-Keith, is long gone, but my mother Margo will come to see me in the show. So will my husband Bill, and my sons, Scotty and Toby, and my longtime friends from Mrs. Barnes’ Bowie High School Drama Department. We’ve kept in touch all these years; you can see many of them in local theatres still. Once an actor, always an actor, and friendships forged in the theatre last forever.
If you come to see Diary of Anne Frank at Compass Rose Theater- and I hope you will- look for two photographs in gold frames on the Van Daans’ bureau. One is a picture of my father, taken at Columbia University, right after he came to this country in 1955; the other is the last photo taken of my grandparents Matilde and Abraham Kaiser, in Duisburg, Germany in 1936.
All of them are smiling.