It matters not how many times one has read books or magazine and internet articles, seen films, TV programs or plays about the Holocaust; it remains incomprehensible that it actually occurred. “And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank,” seen Saturday at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, was a critical reminder that one of the most heinous crimes in the history of mankind deserves constant repetition for those who would forget its lessons, deny it ever happened or have no awareness of it at all.
The tension-filled and gripping drama, written by IRT playwright in residence James Still, is one of the most widely produced plays in the world. Previously staged by the IRT in 1996 and 2005, this production was given first-rate direction by associate artistic director Courtney Sale. The cast includes Mark Goetzinger, Elizabeth Hutson, Jennifer Johansen, Weston LeCrone, Joseph Mervis, and Zoe Turner.
“And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank” is based on video-taped interviews Stills conducted with Eva Geiringer and Ed Silverberg, two Holocaust survivors, both of whom were acquainted with Anne Frank, the 15 year old Jewish girl whose “Diary of Anne Frank” chronicled her war-time experiences prior to her imprisonment and death in a German concentration camp.
It was obvious that Still is a skilled interviewer given that he was able to elicit information and details from both of his subjects who were direct and candid in their replies to his questions. It was also apparent that he had gained their trust enough that they were able to share their extremely personal and often horrendously painful memories with him.
In 1942, Eva and her mother went into hiding from the Nazis, as did her father and brother Heinz, who went to another location in Amsterdam, where the family lived. Two years later on her 15th birthday, she and her mother were discovered and arrested, as were her father and brother. They were all taken to concentrations camps from which only Eva and her mother survived. Eventually, Eva's mother married Anne's father, Otto Frank, who was also a survivor.
Silverberg, who Anne Frank referred to as Hello (short for Helmuth) in her diary, changed his name to Ed and now lives in Hackensack, N.J. Born in Gelson-Kirchen, Germany in 1926, his perilous journey began in 1938 on Kristallnacht when a mob looted his family’s home and beat his mother. Sent to Amsterdam (where he met and became friends with Anne Frank) to live with his grandparents, Silverberg eventually reunited with his parents. Later the family retreated to a house outside Brussels and hid for 26 months until the British Army liberated them in 1944.
The format of the play consists of excerpts of Stills’ interviews with his two subjects followed by the actors dramatizing incidents referred to or introduced by Geiringer and Silverberg in their sound bites. Making for seamless transitions from video to live performance were the overlapping ends of sentences spoken by the survivors on tape repeated at the beginning of sentences spoken by the actors as dialogue in each scene.
Veteran actor Mark Goetzinger, who has appeared in more than 80 productions at the IRT, turned in a strong performance as Ed’s father and Pappy (Eva’s father), as did Jennifer Johansen as Ed’s mother and Mutti (Eva’s mother). Both professional actors were successful in portraying their individual characters, providing each with their own separate personalities and imbuing them with the sort of maternal/paternal characteristics one would expect in such horrendous circumstances.
Very impressive were the three high school and one middle school-aged non-professional actors who filled out the remainder of the cast.
Elizabeth Hutson shone as Young Eva, a young innocent who develops an unbreakable bond with her mother, her only company for the two years they are in hiding. Later she maintains her own strength and resilience, bolstering her mother, and vice versa, as they undergo the vilest of conditions together in the concentration camp, and later after they are liberated during their long trek home to Amsterdam after the war has ended.
Zoe Turner was excellent as free spirited Anne Frank—capturing her character’s well documented precociousness and vivacious curiosity.
Joseph Mervis, who made an impact last season in the IRT’s “Jackie and Me,” also showed promise here as Young Ed, who displayed unbelievable courage and tenacity. Missing a curfew, he was arrested by the Germans but jumped from a truck to escape and at different times during the war he made dangerous trips alone, throughout Europe, to be with his family.
Weston LeCrone, the youngest member of the cast, can also look forward to a successful career, if his distinct portrayals of a Hitler youth and Heinz (Eva’s older brother) were any indication his versatile talent. One of the most heartbreaking moments in the play took place when LeCrone as a member of the feared SS, described a Nazi indoctrination practice which involved the strangling on puppies to demonstrate blind loyalty to the Führer. Extremely painful to learn about, the sick ritual, nevertheless, provided a window into the murderous psyche of the Nazi leadership.
The IRT’s Upper Stage is the location for Still's multi-media play, which showcases designer Rowan Doyle’s foreboding set featuring railroad tracks with a stylized perspective and barbed wire—images inevitably, associated with the Holocaust. Also included are hanging video screens on which Geiringer’s and Silverberg’s interviews, along with various images, are projected and seen by audience members on all three sides of the theater’s arena style space. Contributing to the production's always present sense of impending is Betsy Cooprider Bernstein’s lighting design, which provides the play's environment with its sinister quality—all thoroughly enhanced by composer and sound designer Todd Mack Reischman’s melancholy score and chilling sound effects. Effective as well are Guy Clarke's costumes created to transport the audience with his deftly executed WWII-era designs.
With very few Holocaust survivors still living to share their experiences, it is even more crucial that works like “And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank” be seen by young people. Fortunately, Stills’ impactful work includes characters who speak universal and timeless truths about the the nature of youth. Consequently, Young Eva, Young Ed and Anne Frank convey messages that are relatable and hopefully inspire their contemporary peers to ensure that what happened to them is not repeated, anywhere, to anyone in the world. Never Again.
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