By Cameron Hughes
Anne Being Frank is a one-person show starring Alexis Fishman which tells three parts of Anne Frank’s story: the one we’re familiar with of her years in captivity hiding from the Nazis; a speculative one about her time in a concentration camp where she finds a way to continue her diary; and a third section in which Frank (in the camp) fantasizes about what life as a real writer might be like after the war.
The stage is effectively dressed and made into three sections to depict the different timelines of Frank’s life: the bedroom she has while hiding in captivity, a flat wooden concentration camp sleeping bench at center stage, and the office of Frank’s editor where they discuss the publication of Frank’s diary.
The speculative portions of the show set in the concentration camp, and where Frank wonders about her future life, are the most captivating. Because they’re imaginary, the playwright Ron Elisha has the freedom to create and tell a new story, and we see something original and interesting. We understand how horrific the camp must have been for Frank, and the scenes set after the war make us wonder what might have been had she lived.
Less engaging are the moments we’re already familiar with, Frank’s years in hiding. Shifting in and out of this history often disrupts the flow of the show. The transitions occur so frequently and abruptly, you’re at times left wondering where and when you are. Going from the well-known to something new gives the momentary feeling things aren’t quite right, and it takes a beat to regain your footing. The direction by Amanda Brooke Lerner succeeds in giving life to the show, but the material presents elements which are difficult to overcome.
There are several effective, fascinating, and horrifying depictions in the speculative sections, including those where Frank is raped by a young German guard she calls “Pimples,” and her subsequent abortion from a fellow prisoner who’s also a midwife. Also engaging (and often funny) are the moments between Frank and her future editor (referred to as “Bow Tie”) who wants Frank to remove the more horrific elements of her diary. Though at times absurdly comic, this idea has precedent; Otto Frank (Anne’s father) suppressed pages of his daughter’s diary containing sexual elements from publication.
A comic/tragic refrain of Bow Tie’s is we (and by inference Frank) should always strive to practice forgiveness. This echoes Frank’s famous words “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” After witnessing Frank’s experiences in the camps, you wonder if she would still embrace that thought.
The constant shifts of time and place don’t help Alexis Fishman’s energetic and heartfelt performance, which in the first half especially tended to be a bit disconnected and showy rather than internalized and organic. Her physicality, which often succeeded in imbuing an inner life with energy, at other times felt unconvincing. This is an engaging performance which doesn’t always land.
However, as this opening-night production continued, Fishman seemed to find her footing. Her performance took on more gravity, and there were elements of real connectedness with the many characters she portrays. There were still lapses, but overall she seemed to gain in confidence and several times conveyed true and palpable emotion. You get the feeling after a few more performances, Fishman will find her way more fully into this challenging material.
Also worth noting are the effective soundscape and the mood-inducing lighting.
In the end, Anne Being Frank is a passionate, bold, and imaginative effort which doesn’t always succeed.
The cast & crew of Anne Being Frank are: Alexis Fishman (Anne Frank); Ron Elisha (Playwright), Amanda Brooke Lerner (Director), Aksel Tang (Production Stage Manager); Jesica Terry (Assistant Stage Manager); Sydney Prince (Assistant Stage Manager); Cat Gillespie (Assistant Stage Manager); Elizabeth Bell (Assistant Stage Manager); Colleen Shea (Scenic Designer/Projection Designer); G. Benjamin Swope (Lighting Designer); Graydon Gund (Sound Designer); Noah Berch (Costume Designer); Bryan R. Gonzalez (Wardrobe Supervisor); Janice Orlandi (Movement and Character Coach); Jim Johnson (Accent Coach); John Reed (Choreographer)
Anne Being Frank is running in repertory at The 28th Street Theatre, 15 West 28th Street, 2nd Floor, New York City. The two-month engagement is from September 4th to October 29th, 2023. Performances are approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $40 for groups of 10 or more or $59 and are available HERE.