Saturday, October 24, 2009

This year's play

It's been ten days since I posted something...I can't believe it. I'll dispense with the excuses and just get to work.

I've selected The Diary of Anne Frank for the LHS drama production in April. That of course is pending approval of my boss(es). The original diary was adapted for the stage in 1954. It won awards for Best Play but it also received criticism for soft pedaling the Jewish dimension of the story. Wendy Kesselman adapted the original adaptation and the play was revived not too long ago on Broadway. After reading it, I found myself deeply moved by the story and intrigued by the project.

The play has the potential to resonate with teens because the protagonist is one of them. Anne is irrepressibly inquisitive and precocious. While her fate is horrible, her life brims with energy and longings. Young people should be able to relate.

Then of course there is the play's historical context, the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, which resides in an ever receding historical past, but which is increasingly invoked by some of the more strident voices in our current political discourse. Indeed, there seems to be something of a contest these days to see who can co-opt the Weimar Republic analogy and use it to their own advantage. It's interesting to see how people try to employ it, and who they cast in the principal roles.

Who are today's weak-kneed, liberal, bourgeois democrats, saddled with a failing economy and a legacy of humiliation, and who are today's thuggish populists scapegoating minorities and foreigners, preaching love for the fatherland and evoking dreams of a return to a golden age of racial and national purity? It's an awful contest any way you slice it, but I wish people would pay more attention to the historical details of this analogy and be a bit more rigorous in their thinking about it..

I'd like to mount some kind of exhibit in the lobby of the auditorium which puts on display certain historical information relevant to the play. As it happens I was just today reading Andrew Sullivan's blog, The Daily Dish, and came upon a link to site which posted a letter written by General Eisenhower to General Marshall about a month before the end of WWII. In it he describes a visit he made to an extermination camp.
On a recent tour of the forward areas in First and Third Armies, I stopped momentarily at the salt mines to take a look at the German treasure. There is a lot of it. But the most interesting - although horrible - sight that I encountered during the trip was a visit to a German internment camp near Gotha. The things I saw beggar description. While I was touring the camp I encountered three men who had been inmates and by one ruse or another had made their escape. I interviewed them through an interpreter. The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where they were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to "propaganda."

I'm impressed by Eisenhower's prescience and his determination to bear witness against future deniers of the truth. Makes me want to read more about that man.

While googling the subject of Anne Frank it didn't take me long to come across sites dedicated to denying her story and to portraying it as just another example of Zionist propaganda. I suppose there might some such reaction to the play though I doubt it.

So, there it is. Last year a comedy - this year an historical drama. Stay tuned.


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