Wednesday, February 12, 2020

ASF Acting Fellows: "And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank"

A common thread resonates among the offerings at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival this season: warnings of the danger of history repeating itself if we ignore our past errors can be found throughout -- in Pipeline [common school to prison pipeline for too many African American youth]; in All is Calm [the irony of the "war to end all wars"]; in The Agitators [unequal rights for women and Blacks]; and now in And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank [a powerful one-hour exploration of the Holocaust: the dehumanizing and slaughter of millions of Jews] -- each one a call-to-action with a collective willingness to stamp out bigotry and work for equal justice.

A post-show forum after Sunday afternoon's performance [one of only two public performances] pointed out the appalling truth that there are countless Americans ignorant of the facts about the Holocaust, as well as far too many Holocaust-deniers. So, a question posed at the beginning of the play regarding the Holocaust -- "That could never happen again, could it?" -- is an ominous projection to our own times. In polarized times such as ours, it is disheartening to see so many examples of anti-Semitism and attacks on synagogues that have forced Jewish congregations to enhance security with armed guards to protect them during services.

Played by the ASF Acting Fellows Company on the Festival Stage, this multi-media production by James Still features filmed interviews with Holocaust-survivors Eva Schloss and Ed Silverberg projected onto television screens while the acting company portray them and others from 1938-1945 in episodes that track the plight of European Jews from the rise of Naziism, to the carnage in the concentration camps, to the aftermath following the Russians' liberation of Auschwitz.

We hear a lot about Nazi butchery from the stage, though Mr. Still is more intent on highlighting the impact on Jewish people before and after their time in concentration camps. -- The eight member acting ensemble go beyond the documentary approach of the script to infuse their characters with a sincerity and commitment  that garner audience sympathy at the horrors inflicted upon them.

Teenaged Anne Frank's Diary is one of the most famous depictions of the conditions facing Jews during World War II. Published by her father in 1947, and made into a play in 1955 and a film in 1959, her often quoted assessment of human nature -- "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart" -- sets a standard we ought to achieve. People are "carefully taught", and whether it is to be divisive and mistrustful of anyone perceived to be "other", or to be willing to be inclusive and welcoming, our own history should point the way to actively resolving differences.