“The Diary of Anne Frank” – more relevant than ever

Pictured above: Anna Lentz as Anne Frank. Photo courtesy Goat Factory Media Entertainment.

David Ira Goldstein returns to Arizona Theatre Company this month to direct “The Diary of Anne Frank.” David retired as artistic director last year after 26 years and is now artistic director emeritus of ATC.

“The Diary of Anne Frank” is the second in what David hopes will be a trilogy of plays he will direct. He chose this play several years ago when he wanted to connect more with his Jewish heritage and history. “I did ’Fiddler on the Roof’ last year, which was very reflective of my background – my grandparents came out of the pogroms,” explains David. “I’ve always wanted to do ‘The Diary of Anne Frank,’ and I feel this is the next chapter of the story of the Jewish diaspora in the 20th century and what happened to the Jews in World War II.” For the final play of the trilogy, David would like to do a play about the founding of Israel or the early years of the country. He thinks that “Golda” about Golda Meir would be a good choice.

Not running the theater anymore gave David the time to devote to researching this project. “I was able to go last fall to Amsterdam for several days to visit not only the Anne Frank House but the Holocaust Museum and the Dutch Resistance Museum and many of the other sites associated with the Jewish community in Amsterdam during World War II,” he says.

David also traveled to Rochester, NY, to the Geva Theatre Center; ATC is co-producing the play with Geva. Rochester has many Holocaust survivors residing there, and three of them worked with the company during rehearsals.

David Ira Goldstein, left, with Holocaust survivor Steven Hess.

“One of the survivors was a man named Steven Hess. He was as an 8-year-old boy in hiding in Amsterdam the same time as Anne Frank and was in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at the same time she was there,” says David. “He was on the last train to Auschwitz in April 1945 – that train was freed by the Russians. Having him there to share his experiences was terrifically humbling and educational at the same time.”

Naama Potok, the actress who plays Anne’s mother Edith Frank, lost more than 100 family members in the Holocaust. When asked how her loss impacts her performance, she replies, “My commitment is to Edith’s story and journey, I bring what I know about Edith, in all the moments demanded in the play, to my work. How my family’s particular tragedy and loss, the darkness, horror and terror of its passage through Auschwitz, effects or impacts the intersection of Edith Frank and myself is difficult to pinpoint. Perhaps it shows up in Edith’s moments of rage, despair and in her persistent fight to love her family and keep them alive.”

Naama recently joined a Holocaust survivor to speak with a group of high school students, about the survivor’s experiences and the history of the rise of Nazi Germany. “A number of them asked me if I believed the Holocaust could happen again,” she says. “My reply was that I believed it could. Rather than live in terror of this possibility, there is a great deal we can do.”

She suggests finding a way of reaching across the divide to listen to what grieves another. “If we begin with a small circle, perhaps we can expand it over time to reach more people who want to be heard and are being increasingly silenced,” explains Naama. “We are in danger when voices are silenced, and in greater danger still when we do nothing in response. Perhaps we can consider how to create a society that holds everyone’s voice, particularly those that trigger us.”

When David picked this play, he knew it was an important story for today. “When you read on the front page of the paper that anti-Semitic incidents were up threefold in Arizona last year; you see the Polish senate passing laws that you can’t refer to the Polish death camps even though Auschwitz was in Poland; you see events like Charlottesville and the rise of the neo-Nazis, it’s a really important story to share with everybody, especially young people,” he says. “This piece of history is important to keep telling, and it’s doubly important because it’s true.”

The Diary of Anne Frank
Dates: April 21-May 12 at Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave., Tucson
May 17-June 3 at Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix
Tickets: $41 & up
Information: arizonatheatre.org

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