And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank
11 a.m. Feb. 4
Nashville Children’s Theatre, 724 Second Ave. S.
For information, call 254-9103
Nashville Children’s Theatre is now in its 68th season. As the oldest continuously running children’s theater in the U.S., the company boasts an impressive tradition of bringing finely crafted performances and relevant educational programs to the young people of Middle Tennessee. And unlike many children’s theaters, NCT is particularly blessed with an outstanding performance and rehearsal center, where theatrical events of all stripesfairy tales, contemporary children’s stories, adaptations of ”adult“ classicscan be carried out with style and class.
The NCT legacy is a rich one, and the group has only bolstered its well-earned reputation with its current offering, And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank. This piece may not appear to be typical children’s theater fare. There are no talking toads, no magic carpet rides, no happy endings with uplifting messages. Though the presentation here is certainly child-centered, the materialconcerning the lives of European Jews during the Holocaustis decidedly adult. Like the history it exploits, director Scot Copeland’s production is harrowing, ominous, and hauntingly dramatic. There can be no doubt that the schoolchildren who observed last Friday’s performance were raptly entertained and stoically educated.
The jumping-off point for James Still’s multimedia play is the familiar Diary of Anne Frank, presented by NCT in its 1985 season. Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s 1955 play was, of course, a huge theatrical and film success, exposing the world to the tender and exuberant young Jewish girl whose famous diary recalled the experience of hiding in Amsterdam with her family to avoid Nazi persecution.
But while Anne Frank’s spirit infuses this playand she does appear as a linking characterthe real star of this production is a fascinating videotape, projected onto the theater’s back wall. Made in 1995, the film presents the aging visages of two Holocaust survivors, Eva Schloss and Ed Silverberg, who recount not only their own experiences as Jewish teenagers, but also the circumstances under which they met and knew Anne Frank. This connection adds immediacy and a keen sense of history to the taped reminiscences, in which Schloss and Silverberg relate their flight from Germany in the wake of Hitler’s rise to power, their separation from family members, and Eva’s ultimate internment in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, which she survived with her mother until the Allied liberation.
Simultaneous to the taped excerpts is a performance by six actors who, with unabashed feeling and obvious commitment, act out Silverberg’s and Schloss’ memories. The unique interplay of film and live action is executed deftlyso well, in fact, that at times the actors effect a marvelously well-timed call-and-response to their real-life video counterparts.
As powerful as this multimedia presentation is, it is the history that we remember most. More than 50 years after it happened, we still grope to understand how the Nazi program of genocide against the Jews came to be. Eva Schloss’ family, like Anne Frank’s, lived the terror in all its incarnations: They were stripped of basic freedoms, denied human rights, forced into hiding, and made to endure the ignominy of wearing the yellow star. The concentration camp experience is made quite graphic by the presentation here: Numbers are branded onto prisoners’ arms, loved ones disappear never to be seen again, and the sight of horseflesh is a twisted cause for celebration for the starving inmates.
This is dark drama, indeed. For children it is foremost a learning experience. Luckily, the NCT has assembled a nonpareil cast to bring it all to life, both to teach the lesson and to express the action.
Misty Lewis, seen last summer in Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s The Tempest, plays Young Eva with clarity and unbridled passion. Brandon Boyd is also very good as Young Ed, moving in and out of the proceedings with spirit as he spins his tale of clandestine movement and eventual freedom. Harrison Williams, Pete Carden, and Heather Corwin are each pressed into double duty, and they handle their various roles with versatility and strength. Williams in particular excels as the play’s one truly fictional character, a member of the Hitler Youth whose recurring appearances relate the frightening reality of the Führer’s unbridled power. Finally, there is Vali Forrister, who plays Eva’s mother with elegance, grace, fine dramatic control, and the ironic sense of hope that one needs to find at the end of such a deep and despairing story.
Director Copeland deserves special mention for the way he has woven together various dramatic elements into a seamless whole: the videotape, the music, and the actors; scene designer H.O. Plodder’s starkly effective, expressionistic barbed-wire set piece; Scott Leathers’ foreboding lighting; and Ida’s period costume designs.
The running time for And Then They Came for Me is just over an hour, which seems just about right for a traditional piece of children’s theater. Yet the cumulative effect of this first-rate productionwith its PBS docudrama sensibilityleaves one believing that a lifetime has been lived onstage.
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