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Anne Frank emerges from history a new girl

Since the end of World War II, history has documented the horrors of the Holocaust — the genocide committed by Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany between 1941 and 1945 that systematically murdered around two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe.

We've seen the footage, read the books, and watched the films that outline the atrocities.

Yet it's the dairy of a young Dutch girl that brings depth and longing to the actual time. The book of writing kept by Anne Frank while she was in hiding for two years with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands describes her awareness of the intolerance and hatred surrounding her. She acts upon others, more than being acted upon by history. At times brash and unrepentant, this Anne shows her anger at her situation and the people who have treated her as less than human. She’s not a complacent heroine locked in some attic. She laughs, hates and loves passionately and is a prepubescent child trying desperately to make sense of situations that make no sense.

"The Diary of Anne Frank" opens Friday, March 2, and runs through Sunday, March 25, at Collaborative Theatre Project, 555 Medford Center, Medford. Susan Aversa-Orrego directs. Lisa-Marie Werfel plays Anne Frank, Russell Lloyd is Otto Frank, Lisa-Marie Newton is Edith Frank, and Brittany Hreha is Anne’s sister Margot.

Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 2-3, Thursdays through Saturdays, March 8-10, 15-17 and 22-24, and 1:30 p.m. Sundays, March 4, 11, 18 and 25. Tickets are $25, $20 for seniors and $18 for students, and can be purchased at ctporegon.org, by calling 541-779-1055 or at the box office.

Frank's family was apprehended in 1944, and young Anne died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. When her father, Otto Frank, was released the same year from Auschwitz — the only member of the family to survive the concentration camp — he finds his daughter's diary. This becomes the genesis of her story. 

The first version of the play was written in 1955 by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, Aversa-Orrego says in a press release. That story is a watered-down tale that involved a more Christian concept of redemption rather than a depiction of the humans caught in the times. It was poetic and captivating but downplayed reality.

Collaborative Theatre Project uses the American playwright Wendy Kesselman's 1997 revision of the play for its staging, which contains large sections of dialogue from the original play but removes the sentimentality that wraps around it.

This new, refreshing look at the story shows a different Anne Frank. Her tale is interwoven to create a contemporary, impassioned story of the lives of people persecuted under Nazi rule. This is an adaptation for a new generation able to confront the true horrors of the Holocaust.

"Undeniably moving. It shatters the heart. The evening never lets us forget the inhuman darkness waiting to claim its incandescently human heroine," wrote the New York Times.

"The entire cast is amazing in its desire to research and contribute to the depiction of its characters," Aversa-Orrego says in the press release. "We spent hours attempting to shape these characters in the context of history, while being truly aware that each of them was a living, breathing person. Each of them needed to have all of the dimensions of any human being, and none of them should become stereotypes or shallow creations — regardless of the size of the role. The responsibility of recreating these people is challenging, enlightening and painful.

“We did, however, recognize that in the middle of all of this terror there was an intense desire to hold onto life. That life was precious to all of them in different ways. Whether it was a mother’s desire to protect and keep her children alive or a young girl’s dream of the perfect boy, the characters do not wallow in their fate but rather determine to survive.”

The Van Dann family in the play features Mark Roper and Meagan Kirby as Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan; Evan Sheets as Peter; David Eisenberg as the lonely dentist; and Mr. Dussel, who joins the two families in hiding. Additional cast members are Sophie Stricker as Miep Gies; William Coyne as Mr. Kraler; and Payne Smith, Jacob Gooding and Enzo Giordano as the Three Men.

Lighting designer Michael Demaree and sound designer Mike Kunkel have created the feel and chaos of the times and the living situation. During the 15-minute intermission, the cast will remain onstage.

The show's actors and other moderators will host discussions after each Sunday performance. Admission to the discussions is free.

Lisa-Marie Newton, left, Russell Lloyd, Lisa-Marie Werfel and Brittany Hreha appear in Collaborative Theatre Project's 'The Diary of Anne Frank.' [Photo by Gerry Katz]