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April 06, 1984 - Image 104

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-04-06

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

104

Friday, April 6, 1984

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Actors Alliance Theater stages the 'other' Anne Frank play

BY TEDD SCHNEIDER
Staff writer
Anne Frank. For many Americans the
name creates an instant mental image.
Maybe its Susan Strasberg's portrayal
of the World War II heroine in the Pulitzer
Prize-winning play, The Diary of Anne
Frank. Or Millie Perkins as the seemingly
all-American Dutch girl in the 1959 movie
of the same name.
But what about the 'other' Anne
Frank play? The Holocaust victim, origi-
nally depicted for the stage by the late
author Meyer Levin, who was considered
"too Jewish" for Broadway, was the subject

satisfaction with its Jewish tenor. Follow-
ing Hellman's advice, Otto Frank rejected
Levin's adaptation of the book and asked
the author to drop the project. Albert and
Frances Hackett, a non-Jewish
husband-and-wife screenwriting team,
were chosen to replace Meyer Levin and it
was their version of the play which became
a Broadway hit in 1955.
After The Diary of Anne Frank
opened, Levin sued the Hacketts and Otto
Frank for plagiarism, charging that their
version, while omitting most of the refer-
ences to Jewish issues, contained whole
sections of dialogue from his adaptation.
The jury ruled in Levin's favor, awarding
him 25 percent of all the royalties from the
play. The case was held up in various appe-
als so long that Levin eventually settled
for one payment of $15,000 to cover his
legal expenses. An Israeli production of the
Levin play was closed down in 1966 by Otto
Frank's lawyers.
The death of both men in 1981 has
cleared the way for future productions of
the play, although the court injunction
against it was never officially lifted.
Mrs. Fleischer sees the Anne Frank
injunction as "morally unjust." "You may
or may not like a work of art or literature,"
she said, "but you don't have the right to
say that it cannot be displayed anywhere
in this country."

Yolanda Fleischer
of a drawn out legal battle. The version has
been suppressed for three decades.
Through the efforts of director Yolanda
Fleischer and the Actors Alliance Theater
Company, Detroiters have a chance to
meet the "other" Anne in the groups's cur-
rent production, Levin's Anne Frank.
In the early 1950s, Levin helped Otto
Frank secure a U.S. publisher for his teen-
age daughter's account of the two Dutch
Jewish families (the Franks and the Van
Daans) who hid from the Nazis in a small
Amsterdam attic for more than two years
before being captured. In return for his
help, Mr. Frank allegedly promised the
author first crack at adapting the diary for
stage and film.
Upon completion, the play was given
to Lillian Hellman, who expressed dis-

The Detroit staging of Anne Frank,
only the second production of Levin's play
in the United States according to Mrs.
Fleischer, is the result of nearly a year's
work on the part of the 37-year-old director
and a calculated gamble by Jeff Nahan, the
theater's artistic director and general
manager. The project was launched early
last summer, when Mr. Fleischer learned
of the play's successful 1983 run at the
Boston Lyric Theater.
The Levin play offers an "intriguing
challenge for any director," she said. In
addition, she felt it was the perfect vehicle
for a young actress with whom she had
worked previously, Shirleyann Kaladjian.
Mrs. Fleischer, who holds an MA in theater
from Wayne State University where she
also teaches, spent the next several months
tracking down the Anne Frank script,

The eyes have it

Even from the theater's back row,
the eyes are the first thing one notices.
It's the eyes of the cast that tell the story
in Meyer Levin's Anne Frank.
The eyes of course, are com-
plemented by strong, intelligent per-
formances from each member of the cast
assembled by director Yolanda Fleischer
for the long-suppressed stage play based
on Anne Frank's Holocaust diary.
The Levin play, which differs from
the highly-acclaimed Broadway produc-
tion in its approach to the Jewish aspects
of the Holocaust, touches nearly every
emotional base. Infatuation and paranoia
are explored here as well as love and
legitimate fear.
Shirleyann Kaladjian handles the
role of the teenage Anne Frank with an
effortlessness that would seem to belie
her initial unfamiliarity with the story.
Her characterization leaves out the "20-
20 hindsight" often inherent in such a
role. Anne Frank did not know she was
going to die, so the part should not be
played as a martyr.
As Otto Frank, David Fox has a less
substantial role in the Levin version of
the play than the more famous adapta-

ass

tion, but he still manages to assert him-
self as the Patriarch of both families as
they hide from the Nazis. Levin gave An-
ne's sister, Margot, Zionist ambitions
that were totally ignored by Albert and
Frances Hackett in the Broadway play.
Carol Lempert is articulate, if not
eloquent, in voicing Margot's desire to
become a nurse in Palestine.
The remaining players in the 13-
member cast, more than half of whom are
_ usually on the stage at the same time,
give solid performances. Michael Men-
delson as Peter Van Daan is especially
notable, as he struggles through adoles-
cence in a crowded attic, trying to deal
with strangers as well as his own family
on a new level.
T.S.
* * *

The Actors Alliance Theater Com-
pany will present Meyer Levin's "Anne
Frank" through April 15. Performances
are 8:30 p.m. Fridays, 4 p.m. and 8:30
p.m. Saturdays and 6:30 p.m. Sundays.
Saturday evening's show is a benefit for
the American Jewish Congress. For tic-
kets or information, call the theater box
office, 642-1326.

Michael Mendelson and Shirleyann Kaladjian in a scene from Meyer Levin's "Anne Frank."
The long-suppressed play is at the Actors Alliance Theater in Southfield through April 15 .

which has never been mass published, and
obtaining permission from the Levin fam-
ily for another production of the play.
Having secured the play and an ac-
tress for the lead role, the director ap-
proached Nahan with the idea for staging
the production. "I chose this place to do it
because it's connected with a school (the
Lycee International) and this play has the
right to be done in an educational
environment," she said. The director also
cited- the Actors Alliance Theater's inti-
mate setting (capacity 125) as the best
venue for Anne Frank.
Nahan reacted favorably to the idea in
spite of the play's controversial history and
the fact that the theater was only entering
its second season of operation. "I thought
about it for a few days longer than I nor-
mally would have, but I felt that it was
worthwhile and we should take the
chance."

The key difference between the two
adaptations of the play, according to the
director, is the Jewish element of the story.
"The sense that Jews were unique is elimi-
nated from the Hacketts' version; but in
Levin's play, we see how the Franks' and
the Van Daans' Jewishness is regenerated
because of the situation they were in." In
The Diary of Anne Frank the lines where
Anne questions her Judaism were elimi-
nated.
The Levin play is also more humaniz-
ing, the director said. "He deals with the
characters on a more human level, they are
made accessible to the audience."
Levin's Anne Frank does present some
technical problems not found in the Hac-
kett play. Mrs. Fleischer cited a number of
awkward scene transitions which "could
have been corrected by Levin if he had had
the opportunity to see his play staged."
Mrs. Fleischer found it necessary to change
the order of wording in some passages and
construct "bridges" for others.
Having a non-Jewish actress in the
lead role has not been a handicap. Mrs.
Fleischer cited the professionalism of
Kaladjian and her training as an
"ensemble" actress as beneficial. She feels
that the Levin play is a better dramatic
vehicle for a young actress than The Diary
of Anne Frank and that the actress' lack of
familiarity with the story may have

allowed her to take a fresher approach to
the role.
With the help of Shirley Benyas, who
served as assistant director and music con-
sultant for the production, Kaladjian re-
searched the part thoroughly. "She read
and re-read the original diary and also
Meyer Levin's book, Obsession, which
deals with the controversy surrounding
the play," the director said.
The actress also attended religious
services at Cong. Shaarey Zedek to prepare
for the role. It was there that Kaladjian
picked up the proper pronunciation for the
blessings she chants during the Chanukah
celebration scene in the play's second act.
Being Gentile, Kaladjian felt an obligation
to get the religious aspects of the role cor-
rect, the director said.
In fact, the Chanukah celebration in
Anne Frank is the one scene which best

Lillian Hellman expressed
dissatisfaction with its
Jewish tenor.

illustrates the difference between the two •
plays. Not only does Levin include Hebrew
blessings and songs, but the specter of as-
similation is raised by the Franks and Van
Daans as they gather around the menorah.
The reemergence of Judaism as a major
factor in the lives of the two families dur-
ing their forced exile was completely ig-
nored by the Hacketts in The Diary of Anne
Frank.

Had Meyer Levin lived to see his play
performed in this country, the director
feels he would have noted the "sensitivity
and dimension" which the cast has added
to his characterizations. Mrs. Fleischer
would like to see other directors tackle
Anne Frank so that the Levin play will
continue to evolve as more productions are
staged. "Because the play is just beginning
to surface, it's almost in its raw form," she
said.
Hopefully, Meyer Levin's Anne Frank
will have the same opportunity to mature
in front of American audiences as its
famous predecessor.

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