KPBS AIRDATE: JUNE 30, 2000
It looks more like a cattle-car than a secret upstairs annex — raw wood planks slatted from floor to ceiling. But the sense of constraint and confinement is palpable in Christopher Hall’s evocative scenic design. Even the audience gets into the act; about a third of the seats in the Lyceum Space are boxed in, with those wood slats underscoring the constriction and isolation of spending two years cooped up in a tiny attic, hiding from the Nazis.
Eveoke Dance Theater combines history and literature, theater and dance, in their gut-wrenching presentation of “Soul of a Young Girl: Dances of Anne Frank.” The title words are Anne’s, taken from her timeless and heart-breaking diary, a touching, coming-of-age chronicle of dread … and hope.
The endlessly inventive choreographer Gina Angelique has chosen a somewhat odd assortment of scenes, to recreate, in writhing, angular movement, the essence of the everyday existence of these eight Jewish Amsterdam exiles: the quarreling, the irritability, the guilty moments of joy — but most especially, the relentless terror of those times. The wide-open stage often belies the intolerable proximity of the Annex, though Anne’s private space is an aptly narrow little box.
With periodic narration from the diary, read in the youthful, hopeful voice of Paula Present, we learn about Anne’s budding womanhood and blossoming love for Pieter, we see her playfulness in creating the game of Bean-rubbing (“making moldy beans decent again,” as Anne put it), and like voyeurs, we watch the agonizing lineup for the chamber-pot when the shriveled, scrounged food makes everyone sick. But mostly, it’s those nights we’ll remember, when sirens and air raids and nightmares and the creepy, white-faced specter of lies and death prevent any semblance of sleep. The joined blankets stretched across the playing space provide one of many riveting stage pictures, which are backed by recordings from the Kronos Quartet — often jarring, shrieking and ear-piercing.
It’s helpful to know a bit about the book, since little is made here of the individual characters; this is more about collective spirit and communal terror. “Soul of a Young Girl” premiered in 1996, but it serves as a poignant centerpiece of the 7th annual Festival of Jewish Arts. The all-female cast capably captures the residents of the Annex, most radiantly, its two central characters… Otto Frank or Pim, Anne’s unfaltering father, danced with resolute intensity by Gina Angelique; and Anne, incandescently portrayed by 13 year-old Elizabeth “Froggy” Marks, with her lithe, restless movements and her strikingly expressive face.
Anne Frank put a small, human face on a barbaric moment in history. Her plaintive message of optimism and hope is always worth a revisit. Though minimal movement was permitted in the real Annex, dance brings a whole new level of emotion to the story. “Soul of a Young Girl” is a theatrical event for everyone — for schoolkids and their parents, for those who’ve never known and those who will never forget.
©2000 Patté Productions Inc.