by Bruce Strand, Arts editor
Actors at Elk River High School opted for the challenge of a serious drama this fall.
You can’t get much more serious and challenging than a Holocaust story complete with yellow stars, doomed families, prolonged fear and trembling, Gestapo bursting through doors, and ultimately a gas chamber scene.
“Anne Frank and Me” will open Thursday evening at Zabee Theatre and continue with six showings over two weekends. (See schedule below).
“This happened to real people,” said Ali Brady, who has the lead role of a 2009 teenager who time-travels to a Jewish family in Nazi-occupied Paris after a concussion. “Playing the role makes it more real.”
Director Michelle Brooks gave the actors five scripts late this summer, dramas and lighter fare, and asked them to choose.
“They picked this one, almost unanimously,” said Brooks. “They were very interested in the Holocaust and liked the fact that it was going to challenge them.”
Brady, in her 10th ERHS play, has been a lively, scene-stealing performer in musical and comic roles.
“This is a good opportunity to work on my skills at being more serious. It’s a lot easier to do light-hearted roles than serious.”
The cast absorbed movies such as “Schindler’s List,” documentaries, and literature, including, of course, “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Most also had a Holocaust segment in junior high.
“In eighth grade, I was that one kid who was always crying during the little documentaries we saw in English class,” said Cara Fromm, who plays Renee Bernhardt, the mother in the Jewish family that was hiding until caught late in the war.
“It’s a challenging character, although very hard, emotionally,” said Fromme, whose previous roles include Beth in “Little Women” and Mrs. Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” She adds, “I’ve always found the 40s very interesting.”
Adds Bridgette Hulse, who plays Nicole’s sister in Paris, “To show other people the turmoil and pain these families experienced is a great way to honor them.”
“Anne Frank and Me” is taken from a 2001 novel by Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesveld, with Bennett subsequently adapting to story for the stage.
Ali’s original character is Nicole Burns, a modern teen who loves to dance and has a hopeless crush on a boy in school. She and her friends are wrestling with their assignment to read “The Diary of Anne Frank” and discuss it for Mrs. Zooms’ (Maddie O’Connor) class. Several of the kids insist the story is a hoax, influenced by adult Holocaust-deniers in their lives. Nicole, obsessed by the boy, reads only part of the book.
When Nicole falls and hits her head at a dance, after being disappointed by the boy and running away, she wakes up in 1942 Paris as Nicole Bernhardt. Her high school principal (Blake Nordman) is also there, but he’s now her Jewish dad, and several other 2009 friends and her sister also materialize as other people.
At first she thinks she’s still Nicole Burns and just having a dream, a dream that gets better when her crush (James Bound) re-enters her life as a non-Jewish school mate who adores her.
But soon the reality of her situation sets in. She’s one of two daughters in a family hiding from the Nazi’s, with a father fighting back because he knows deportment means death, and a mother clinging to the hope they’ll survive.
And there’s no happy ending here, unless you count the intriguing twist that finds Nicole meeting a fellow teen (Alex Thorsen) in the boxcar taking them to the concentration camp and quickly realizes she is Anne Frank. The girls have compelling dialogue that leave the audience with something to latch unto in this sad tale.
Adam Harbeneh, another senior stage and music veteran performer, plays David, who loves Ali in 2009 teen and 1942 (as a fellow hunted Jew), finally winning her heart when it’s too late for both of them.
“Roles like this are what every actor dreams of,” said Harbeneh. “I have always been fascinated by Holocaust stuff, both in and out of school.”
The cast also includes Savannah Hulse as Nicole sister in 2009; Aggie Menke, Kelsey Wakeman, Andrew Bronshteyn, Hannah Gandrud, and Emily Motin as her friends; and Andrew Elmquist, Lucas Laniel, Jordan Plachecki, Blake La Vallee, Brady Murphy, Beth Brady, Katherine Pysick, Ben Jacobs, Alexis Ayres, Nate Chesmore, Hope Martindale, Jeremiah Turcotte, and Dylan O’Connor.
Elmquist, a freshman in his first play, is one of the Gestapo thugs capturing Ali and her mother and sister.”It gets really emotional at times,” acknowledged Elmquist, a thoughtful, polite youth. He adds, “I know a lot about World War II.”
Viewers will know a little more too, after seeing this play.
“Anne Frank and Me”
At Zabee Theatre, Elk River High School
Thursday, Nov. 1, at 7 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 3, at 2 and 7 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 8, at 7 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m.