Last night, a friend and I went to see the production of Anne Frank and Me at the Pearl Theater, located near Shadow Creek Ranch. It was my first time at the Pearl, and I was very surprised and delighted at how small the theater was. We had front row seats and were just a few feet from the talented actors. I knew this play was about The Holocaust, so I tried to brace myself to deal with this tragic subject matter. I found that there was no way to prepare; I (and judging from the sniffles around me, most of the audience) was in tears by the end.
Directed by Renee van Nifterik, the play opens in modern times in the bedroom of a teenage girl named Nicole (Mallory Abel) facing the usual problems of today: dealing with boys, broken hearts, insecurity, friends, homework and teachers. She puts aside her assigned reading of The Diary of Anne Frank to practice dance moves with her friends. Nicole even questions the validity of the book and The Holocaust because of her scientist father (Steve Garris). But Anne Frank (Langeland), with her beautiful ballet choreography, seeps into Nicole’s psyche to affect her future.
After a school dance takes a dramatic turn, Nicole flees and finds herself in 1940’s Paris, where non-national Jews are beginning to disappear. Her mother now looks like her teacher (Cherish Loog), her father resembles her principal (Garris), her sister Elizabeth (Hailey Loog) is suddenly named Liz-Bette and her crush (Benjamin Ashton) is now her long-term love, as well as the twin brother of her best friend (Miranda Fox).
As time goes on, Nicole forgets her “old” life in the future and faces the world of a Jew in Paris, which becomes smaller and smaller, due to Nazi rules and regulations. Eventually, Nicole and her family are forced into hiding and then end up on a train to Auschwitz. It’s on that train that Nicole runs in to Anne Frank herself and amazes both of them by inexplicably knowing all about Anne’s diary. Things don’t end well for Anne or Nicole, though Nicole ends up waking up in a modern hospital room a la The Wizard of Oz. Strangely, she had been mumbling a Jewish prayer before she became fully conscious.
In order to give you the best review I can, I must be honest. I consider Mallory Abel to be my “other daughter” and her mother to be my “sister from another mister.” Perhaps it was partly this previous relationship that moved me so much, but I can’t say this is completely the case. No matter who you are or who you know, the atrocities that happened during the second World War are just plain sad. All of the actors brought their characters to full life and made the audience care about them, so as the story unfolded, it wasn’t just the character of Nicole that I felt so strongly for.
Stand-outs include Miranda Fox as MiMi, Nicole’s best friend. Her energy and ability to bring forth a wide range of emotion dominated the stage. Hailey Loog, as Nicole’s little sister, was appropriately annoying while trying to play with the “big kids” as well as sweetly wounded as she faced uncertainty on the train. Even though she was only in 3 scenes, Sabine Young Langeland, as Anne Frank, commanded the audience’s attention with her beautiful voice, ballet and overall stage presence. Strong, emotional adult roles were performed with grace and range by Steve Garris and Cherish Loog as Nicole’s principal/father and teacher/mother. Bryce H. Cooper, with his piercing blue eyes, brought the devoutly Jewish David to life and graced him with the sincerity and sensitivity of a young man facing trials on multiple levels.
If you’re a fan of community theater and want to see a performance almost guaranteed to lift you up and bring you to tears, don’t miss Anne Frank and Me. It will be gone after October 13, 2013, so hurry and get your tickets at http://www.pearl-theater.com/. The theater is located at 14803 Park Almeda Drive, Houston, TX 77047 and their phone number is 713-340-2540. The Pearl Theater is a proud part of the Pearland Theatre Guild, which allows productions such as Anne Frank and Me to be offered.
[Note: As a mom, I would not take any children under the age of 10 (depending on maturity) to this play. There is no offensive language or overt violence, but the subject matter may be frightening for some children.]