“This is not a play for me, or even for Jews and Germans – it is a play for all the world.”
Those words were said by Otto Frank, father of young Jewish diarist Anne Frank, following the European premiere of the play The Diary of Anne Frank in Sweden around 1956.
Next week, the Chilliwack Players Guild will be bringing an adaptation of that original play to the Chilliwack Cultural Centre stage.
Wendy Kresselman’s revised script of The Diary of Anne Frank was written in 1997 and is a Tony-nominated production.
“I really like it because the first act is the first year they were in hiding, the second act is the second year. All the scenes really flow from one to the next flawlessly,” says director Astrid Beugeling of Kresselman’s adaptation.
Usha Browning, a 13-year-old A.D. Rundle middle school student, will be playing the role of Anne Frank. Usha is the same age Anne was when the Frank family went into hiding in 1942.
When she first auditioned for the role, Usha didn’t know much about Anne.
“I took the diary out at my school and I was reading it and I really fell in love with Anne,” says Usha. “We are very similar — she’s a very creative, bright, intelligent girl. We have similar thoughts and opinions on the same thing.”
She loves that they’re alike “because it’s really easy to get into character.”
Usha is joined by Walt Derksen (Otto Frank), Trisha Knight-Good (Edith Frank), and Isabella Dimanno (Margot Frank). Other cast members include Glenn Howard (Mr. Van Daan), Jody Beugeling (Mrs. Van Daan), Zach Loescher (Peter Van Daan), Dennis Rackliff (Mr. Dussel), Denise Munro (Miep), Darren Browning (Mr. Kraler) and Trevor Thornley (soldier).
“The cast, they all have this innate connection to the character that they’re playing,” says Beugeling.
At the beginning of each act, Usha recites a monologue, one of Anne’s diary entries.
Those words written by Anne Frank have been read and spoken countless times. Excerpts of her diary were first printed in a Dutch newspaper in 1946. The book, also known as The Diary of a Young Girl, was published in 1947. The play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett made its theatre debut in 1955 in New York, and shortly after, it premiered in Europe including in Germany in 1956. And in 1959 the movie was released.
“I love the story. I know it’s real, it’s real people. But it’s so important for today, and especially what’s going on in the world today, that more and more people need to know about this story,” says Beugeling.
“A lot of young people don’t know who Anne Frank is,” she adds, especially since today the book is much less frequently assigned as required reading in high school.
Beugeling understands that The Diary of Anne Frank is a heavy undertaking. She reminds her cast regularly to “get some good sleep” and “eat well.”
Usha says that rehearsals have been emotionally “very draining.”
“What you have to remember is the optimism that [Anne] had, and you have to hang onto that,” says Beugeling.
“People who do theatre, that’s why you do theatre is because you want to bring it back to light so you don’t forget these things. These are the reasons why we don’t want to have war.”
The Chilliwack Players Guild’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank opens on Thursday, April 25 and runs until Sunday, May 5 in the Rotary Hall Studio Theatre at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre. Show times are: April 25, 26, 27 and May 2, 3, 4 at 7:30 p.m.; and April 28 and May 5 at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $25 for adults, and $20 for students/seniors. Tickets available at chilliwackculturalcentre.ca or by calling 604-391-SHOW(7469).