When Olney Theatre Center decided to stage Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s Tony-winning The Diary of Anne Frank this season, Derek Goldman seemed like the perfect choice to direct. “It’s a story that has been with me for most of my adult life,” Goldman says.
In second grade, he first learned about the story of Anne Frank but really came to understand her story more deeply in high school when he was in an original play about the noted German diarist and writer.
Later still, as part of a founding of a theater company in Chicago in the mid-’90s, one of Goldman’s first professional jobs was to help create a new play about Anne Frank for a travelling Anne Frank Museum and Exhibit, called Right as Rain. That toured for three years around the country.
The story is familiar to almost everyone. Fleeing Nazi persecution of Jews, Anne Frank and her family go into hiding for two years and during the time, Frank wrote about her experiences and wishes in a diary. She was 15 when the family was found and sent to the camps, where she died.
At first, Goldman wasn’t sure he wanted to do it, since he had already told the story in a range of ways, and been down that road before. But as he slept on the idea for a few days, a couple of things really started to grab his interest.
“As I went back to the material, both literally and in my mind, I was struck by how this story is always relevant and the particular resonances of this movement,” he says. “I have been involved in a lot of politics and performance in Georgetown and a lot of things at the intersection of politics and performance with the refugee crisis, and thinking about all that in the context of this story—this family forced into a space and having their humanity and sense of identity threatened for no reason other than what they are, just struck me.”
Plus, Goldman’s kids are now 13 and 16, prime age for really understanding what Frank and her family went through during this terrible time, as Frank herself is presented from the ages of 13-15 during the play.
“The way the play deals with adolescence and young adulthood and the space between that interested me at the moment,” he says.
Finally, he was intrigued at the opportunity to direct the play in the intimate space of the Olney’s 150-seat black box theater.
“The play as written, even in its stage directions, is on a Broadway scale,” he says. “That challenge, in creating a world where we are all in the annex together, and the chance to get top collaborators working on an intimate scale really appealed to me.”
“To be returning now to the tried and true version of the story, at least dramatically, has been interesting.” Goldman continued. He feels that he and his team were able to accomplish something that hasn’t been done before.
“What one tries to do with a piece like this is really mine the detail truths that are there and I actually think this team put our own stamp on it just by really noticing how immediate the story is to us,” he says. “There’s nothing old-fashioned about this story, even though it’s set six decades ago. When you set out to tell the truth and almost take an X-ray approach to it all, it was important to me in such an intimate space to find actors who could really mine the humanity of this circumstance and had a lot to draw on. There is no pretense. No pre-conceived ideas.”
The Diary of Anne Frank
Produced by Olney Theatre Center
closes October 23, 2016
Details and tickets
Carolyn Faye Kramer plays Anne, a young actress who Goldman calls remarkable and really great at playing the nuances of both the 13- and 15-year-old Anne in the play.
“Because I had done versions of this role before and had other Anne’s in my life as a director, it was challenging to cast and it took a long time,” he says. “I knew the soul and spirit of who Anne is and needed someone with the chops to really track the way she grows up over the course of the play. Carolyn brings such spirit and wisdom and adventure in all the ways that Anne is.”
Also in the cast are Paul Morella as Otto, Brigid Cleary as Edith, Dani Stoller as Margot, Alex Alferov as Peter, Eric Hissom as Mr. van Daan, Susan Rome as Mrs. van Daan, Michael Russotto as Mr. Dussel, Kimberly Schraf as Miep Gies, and Ed Christian and Jesse Milliner as Man 1 and 2.
“It’s a beautiful seasoned group of ensemble players, a lot of DC’s finest actors,” Goldman says. “I really feel like we’re all able to pull together as a team. Part of the journey with this play is that everyone is ultimately a family pressed together.”
That again goes back to the intimate space. With not much of a backstage, no real dressing rooms and a dozen people working on top of each other every day, the director notes it has brought everyone closer together.
“In that type of environment, you either thrive or you don’t,” he says. “It seems very true to what this story asks and making us know each other very deeply. That’s been exciting.”
There is some reinvention with the space, as well. There’s no real way to convey a two-level set as the play requires, and Goldman offers great props to scenic designer Misha Kachman for the way he brings the audience in the annex with Anne and her family.