“What if Anne Frank had lived?”
Playing for the first time to Montreal audiences, The Secret Annex is a nostalgic narrative of what might have been, revealing playwright Alix Sobler’s vision of the Diary of a Young Girl heroine’s fate had she not been persecuted and perished in Bergen-Belsen under the Nazi regime.
Here, in director Marcia Kash’s riveting production at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts, Anne Frank survives, thrives, and lives — in every sense of the word.
It’s 1955 — ten years after the diarist’s notorious confinement in the Amsterdam Achterhuis — and Anne is an aspiring 25-year-old author living in Brooklyn on a resolute mission to have the extraordinary contents of her teenage chronicles as a Jewish victim of the Holocaust published to the world.
Sara Farb, previously seen in Stratford Festival’s 2015 Diary of Anne Frank, of whom she played to great critical acclaim, reprises the principal role. Ms. Farb is Anne Frank – or at least hauntingly close to what one would envision her fully fleshed phantom to be: spirited, inquisitive, expressive, cheeky, and ever so precocious.
Anne’s chronic musings and reminiscing of her memoirs have now become her greatest strife in this post-war epoch, tainting her relationships with her sister Margot (eloquently portrayed by Anne Cassar) and cohort Peter Van Pels (solidly played by Brett Donaue), fellow former occupants of the obscure back-room hideout who have also gone on to exist in this hypothetical universe. In striking contrast to a reflective Anne, their tale of resuscitation is marked by their resolve to let go of a funereal past, rebuild a foundation for traditional family life, and claim any residual sense of normalcy one might have faith of establishing as a Holocaust survivor.
Marcel Jeannin delivers a first-class performance as Anne’s eventual charmer of an American husband with whom she struggles to “settle” with as she remains blinded by her devotion to her message and a presumed higher calling as an autobiographer. Rounding out the stellar cast is a formidable Judith Baribeau as a humorous yet austere, no-nonsense, publisher that dismisses Anne’s gallant persistence in becoming a voice for the millions who were slaughtered by Nazi tyranny as part of “The Final Solution”.
Whilst it’s consoling to contemplate Anne Frank being given a chance to experience the full life she deserved, perhaps the most uncomfortable afterthought involves the very fate of the diary. Would her anecdotes and accounts not have been as eminent had she not passed as she did? Does serving the greater good precede one’s own well-being? Heroic martyrdom, disturbing as it may be, may still have its place in the human psychology of idolization.
Frustration, resentment, hope and love are the cardinal emotions at play in The Secret Annex as “what if?” scenarios unfold and a disconcerted, post-apocalyptic Anne Frank is confronted and burdened with the reality of complex life questions and choices: what is ultimately one’s purpose? Which is the path to happiness? Is it perhaps not enough to merely be alive?
Don’t miss this enthralling production of the The Secret Annex which runs at the Segal Centre until February 21st, 2016. For more information, check out our What’s On Calendar or the official event website. For tickets, click here or contact the Segal Centre by calling the box office at 514-739-7944