So I had the pleasure of seeing The Secret Annex at the Segal Centre last night, and it totally blew me away. If you haven’t heard of this play before, it was written by Alix Sobler and imagines what Anne Frank’s life would have been like in 1950’s Brooklyn had she survived the war. This is a world in which her diary would have remained unpublished and her name unknown. It’s a tough topic to explore, but the play is so self-aware that the audience is constantly reminded that these events never actually happened. However, this meta-Brechtian-thing didn’t stop me from losing myself in the story, which is always a risk.
The play was directed by Marcia Kash (yay female directors!), and I can’t wait to see what she does in the future, because this production was so gorgeous and tight. It had that whole creepy 50’s cookie cutter dollhouse kind of look, which contrasted so well with the quite dark subject matter. See, this play focuses on Anne’s obsession with her time in the annex and how she’s too stuck in the past to pay attention to the present. The transitions between scenes were so flawless and reflected that idea perfectly, with Anne staying onstage most of the time while everything moves around her. That was a standout for me.
(Short digression, but apparently Kash has directed three different productions of The Diary of Anne Frank in the span of 15 years. Wild, right? I can’t even imagine. I feel like you’d constantly be trying to one-up yourself. Anyway.)
Performances-wise, this was a stunning cast. Sara Farb, who just came back from playing Anne Frank in Stratford last season, was an absolute standout. I myself have read Anne Frank’s diary (although it’s been a while), and she manages to capture Anne’s bubbly energy and quirkiness. I feel like I recognized her from the diary. It was a weird experience, but super enjoyable.
I have to say, the play had a bit of a rocky start. I feel like it took about a third of act 1 (which ran 65 minutes) for most of the actors to really come into their characters. But once they did, I was so into it. Act 1 is definitely the weaker act; I feel like the theme of trying to escape the past didn’t really establish itself until act 2. Act 1 felt a little cliché – mostly I felt like I was watching a show about a woman struggling to choose her career (writing her memoir) over her romantic life, a trope that I’m pretty tired of personally (also, does the world really need another love triangle?). Act 1 didn’t really bring anything new to the table for me, but I understand its importance in establishing everything for act 2, which completely blew me away. So stick around at intermission, folks.
One of the things I loved about this production was the amount of detail in the design choices in so many things from lighting to props. Everything seemed to imitate the cover of Anne’s journal (a plaid pattern, reminiscent of a cage – coincidence?), but it wasn’t so obvious that I felt overwhelmed or not taken seriously by the director. It was just the perfect amount.
TL;DR: act 1 was okay; act 2 blew my mind; go see The Secret Annex. It’s running until February 21 at the Segal Centre in Montreal. The website claims that tickets start at $44, but student tickets are $24.50 and the under 30 price is $35, so they lie.
(Another digression: I’ve seen everything put on at the Segal so far this season – Funny Girl, Tribes, and now The Secret Annex – and I’ve loved everything I’ve seen. I can’t wait to see what they do next.)