Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Bearing Witness Anne Frank's Memory Lives on at Pittsburgh Public Theater

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Bearing Witness Anne Frank's Memory Lives on at Pittsburgh Public Theater

Article excerpt

Remy Zaken has appeared off-Broadway and on Broadway, but even she was a little awestruck when she saw a poster of her face plastered on the side of the O'Reilly Theater.

The youthful 26-year-old actress who was in the original cast of "Spring Awakening" as Thea is starring in the title role of "The Diary of Anne Frank," the season opener for Pittsburgh Public Theater.

As she hustled into the upstairs O'Reilly lounge, she was finding it a little startling to be faced with her face everywhere she turned.

"The poster is just ... I'm overwhelmed," she said. "I've been in the business for 15 years, and I've played lead roles, but it's been a while. . It's a lot of pressure, but I'm ready for the challenge."

That challenge is to do justice to the memory of a young Jewish girl who has come to symbolize the millions like her who were killed during World War II.

The play, directed for the Public by Pamela Berlin, is by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, based on the writings published in "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl." The Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1956 went to the play, which tells the story of 14-year-old Anne - Anna, here - her parents, Otto and Edith, and sister Margot, who went into hiding with four others when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. They lived in the cramped space of a secret annex and survived there for two years with the help of Miep and Jan Gies.

They lived in constant fear, with little light, increasingly scarce food and knowing that every sound could mean discovery.

During a recent visit to Amsterdam, director Berlin stayed in the Jordaan neighborhood that is home to the Anne Frank House. Today it is a residential area and, with the exception of the long lines to enter the Franks' hiding place, "doesn't feel tourist-ified," Ms. Berlin said.

The public isn't usually let into Otto Frank's private office, but Ms. Berlin was granted entrance after pre-arranging her visit.

"In the annex, all the furniture has been removed because there would be no room for people to move around. But in his office, all of the original furniture is there. I felt the ghosts there. The smells were still there. That's where I could hear footsteps above. It really came home to me."

The narrow, cramped rooms "and how oppressive that must be" was one thing that the visit made real for her. The other was the sound attached to every movement.

"In these old buildings - the annex was built in the 1700s; the front where the offices were, the 1600s - you can hear every creak from above, and how careful they had to be during the work hours. From 8 in the morning to essentially 6 at night, they could barely move."

In a rehearsal room on a floor above the stage, furniture was packed into the space to replicate what the actors will experience when "Anne Frank" opens in previews tonight. …

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