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Theater Notes: Homage to Anne Frank, reflection on the season

By Staff | Apr 22, 2015

One of my favorite directors, Annette Trossbach at The Laboratory Theater of Florida, has brought to southwest Florida so many fine productions. I hope you remember her “My Brilliant Divorce,” and the “Death of a Salesman,” and, oh, that superb “Agnes of God,” among them.

Now we have until May 22 a radical production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” She started with an amazing play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hacket that was based on the diary, one I hope many of you have seen in your own vast theater life. I was really lucky. I was living in New York, teaching and working on my doctorate in 1956 when I got twofers way up in the balcony to see Joseph Schildkraut as Otto Frank and Susan Strasberg as Anne Frank.

Wikipedia told me the play opened simultaneously in seven German cities on Oct. 1, 1956. Upon its opening in Amsterdam on Nov. 27, 1956, Queen Juliana was in attendance.

“The Diary of Anne Frank” received the Tony award for best play. The play also received the Pulitzer Prize for drama for Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich. Susan Strasberg won the 1956 Theatre World Award. The play also received the 1956 New York Drama Critics Circle award for best play.

Ms. Tossbach knew all this, and such information that could be slightly intimidating to any ordinary director, but no not her. She was born in Germany. Annette has been a fierce fighter for theater that changes lives, and that is one of her driving forces behind The Theater Laboratory of Florida.

She decides to play it like a black and white movie. Ken Bryan’s perfect set is black and white. The props and costumes are too. And the makeup, that might take the audience some time to get accustomed to, is grimly black and white.

There are nine people, two Jewish families, crowded into the hidden loft above Otto Frank’s warehouse. They must be silent, almost allowed no movement, certainly not in shoes. No water must be run for the eight or more hours there are still workers down below. The conflicts that emerge are inevitable. And Anne is writing it all down in her diary.

The cast of Community Theater members pulls it off. Ms. Trossbach’s unique vision prevails, and makes for a haunting evening. If you’ve never seen the play before, you really need to go. The rest of us need to go to support the idea that theater that changes lives is something to be ardent about.

One last thing. Ms. Trossbach wrote a grant to coincide with Florida law that has all middle schools in the state use the state curriculum to teach about the Holocaust. I feel so proud to be a Floridian, with a law that enhances the teaching of compassion, empathy and the courage to stand up for what you believe.

Ms. Trossbach’s grant gives free tickets to any middle school to bring students and teachers to see “The Diary of Anne Frank.” You, too, can get a free ticket for a grandkid in middle school. Because of so many kids coming to see the play, I urge you to get yours fast. Sell-out houses will happen.

Call (239) 218-0481 or order at laboratorytheaterflorida.com. Feel free to email me at compr1@juno.com. Tell me your ideas about theater to change lives.

Addendum: (Plays that have closed)

I regret that you might have missed the one-night stand of one of the best evenings of the season, and maybe the chance to see one of the best one woman plays I have ever seen. Thanks to the Rotary and BIG ARTS, Sanibel was graced with Deborah Jean Templin in her play, “The Unsinkable Women.”

She played the roles of nine of the women who survived the sinking of the “Titantic.” It truly was theater at its greatest. So in the future, keep your eyes and ears open to possibilities at BIG ARTS.

Another regret is if you didn’t get to see “Jane The Plain” at Theatre Conspiracy. It closed April 11. If you have high school or college aged grandkids, this demanding play would have gripped them and you as it gripped me.

A marvelous group of college students from FSW, with sharp directing and guidance from a collaboration between Bill Taylor of Theatre Conspiracy and Stuart Brown, head of the theater department at FSW, brought us this gift. Watch for whatever they do next year. It’s theater to attract more young people to share in the delights of live theater, and deserves our ardent support.