BLUE HILL — One would like to think that the story of Anne Frank has no relevance today. That teenage girls and their families are no longer being persecuted and murdered by forces beyond their control and beyond human compassion.
The sad fact is such horrors continue to happen throughout the world. But who wants to be reminded in the midst of their summer vacation about a Dutch teenager who perished more than 70 years ago, in the Holocaust of World War II?
Well, maybe anyone who wants to brush up on what happens when nationalism goes unchecked, or is interested to see how love, hope and courage can survive in a world gone terribly wrong.
New Surry Theatre will give people that opportunity when it opens its production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” on Friday, July 12, at the Town Hall Theater.
Based on the actual diaries written by Anne while she and her family hid for two years from the Nazis in occupied Amsterdam, in the home of Dutch resisters, the play is often just about the frustrations of being a kid cooped up in three rooms with another family and a grouchy dentist, having to go through the confusions of puberty with virtually no privacy.
The story is a tragic one, but according to director Rebecca Poole there is much more to it than its terrible outcome.
“Believe it or not there is laughter,” says Poole, who has used the original 1955 stage adaption by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.
She says that while the sense of dread never completely abates — “We hear soldiers marching and commotion in the streets and we all know how it will end” — there are lighter moments.
And really, she says, it’s these lighter moments, the squabbles, the kids being kids, the grown-ups being exasperated, that heighten the reality of the story and therefore its poignancy. And, there will be a real cat acting the role of Mouschi, which should offer a certain element of realistic unpredictability to the performance.
Still, Poole says, “It is a difficult, emotional play to read and taxing on the actors, but I have marveled how they get through it. There isn’t a moment when they are not onstage in one of the three set rooms. So even when the main focus is elsewhere, they have to be in character going about their business in another room.”
Poole said she decided to do this play when she realized she had the perfect Anne in an NST relative newcomer, Cora Hutchins.
“Cora has been on stage in several smaller roles and has pitched in backstage wherever she is needed,” says Poole. “She was excellent in her first major part as the daughter in last year’s ‘The Papermaker,’ but I believe this will be her real breakout role.”
There will be several NST veterans in the cast, as well. Ralph Chapman known for the honesty he brings to all his roles, will play Anne’s father, Otto Frank, the only family member to survive the concentration camps. Versatile Nina Robinson Poole will play Anne’s older sister Margot and Jim Fisher, who brings a quirky charm to his characters, plays the dentist Mr. Dussel.
Adam Mathewson, who just a few years ago enchanted audiences with his sweet soprano in the title role of “Oliver!” has grown up to play Peter van Daan, the teenage son of the other couple hiding in the attic.
“Peter is the other side of Anne’s coin,” says. Poole. “While she clings to her optimism and her belief that people are essentially good, Peter vents his anger.”
Although there are no actual Jews in the cast, Poole says they have had Bill Raiten and Amy Weisberg to advise where needed.
Neither the Franks nor the van Daans were Orthodox, she says, but they did observe the high holy days and it was important to get that right.
Another highlight of this play should be Annie Poole’s set in which she has tried to replicate the sense of the space the director actually visited during a trip to Amsterdam. The hideout was enshrined after Otto Frank edited and published his daughter’s diary.
“I talked with an elderly woman who had also visited the Anne Frank House,” Poole says, “and she said that while she could no longer recall the physical look of those secret rooms, she could still vividly recall what it felt like to be in them.
“I hope to achieve something like that with our audiences; that they will get some sense what it was like for those families doing the best they could to live and survive in such terrible times and circumstances.”
Because it is about family, Poole strongly believes this is a family show — although she advises that it may not be suitable for children under 10.
“What happened to the people in that attic is the result of hate,” Poole says, “but ultimately it is a story about love.”
The New Surry Theatre will perform “The Diary of Anne Frank” at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, July 12-13, 19-20 and 26-27 and at 3 p.m. Sunday, July 21.
After the Sunday matinee on July 21, Maine Sen. Shenna Bellows (D-Kennebec County), who directs the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, will lead a discussion with audience members interested in further involvement.
For more information and to order tickets ($18 general, $15 students and seniors), call 200-4720 or visit newsurrytheatre.org.