Oglebay Institute’s Towngate Theatre opens its 50th season of community theater with the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play “The Diary of Anne Frank” by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.
It will be staged for two weekends — Sept. 21-23 and Sept. 28-29.
One of the most famous and haunting stories of the 20th Century, the play brings to life the memoirs of a young Jewish girl who was forced to hide in an attic for nearly two years to escape Nazi persecution. As relevant today as when it was first written, Anne Frank’s diary is an essential part of how we remember one of the darkest periods in human history.
It is no secret that “The Diary of Anne Frank” does not end happily. Anne was finally captured by the Gestapo and sent to a concentration camp where she died at the age of 15. But during those two years in hiding, Anne wrote her story and urged us to stand up for one another in the face of intolerance, fear and hated.
Following the war, her diary was given to her father, Otto Frank, after being saved by his secretary. He worked to get her writings published, and, in 1947, “The Diary of a Young Girl” was released. Her writings are a record of optimism, anticipation and, above all, life. Since its publication, the book went on to become a symbol of hope and resilience that has been translated into dozens of languages.
Goodrich and Hackett wrote the dramatization of the book, and it premiered on Broadway in 1955. After opening, the play won multiple awards, including the Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The play is set behind the offices where Otto Frank worked in Amsterdam, in a secret annex where the Frank family is hiding from the Nazis. The Van Daans, another Jewish family, share the cramped space with the Franks. Before long, they must take in Mr. Dussel, a grumpy dentist. There are also visits by the heroic Miep Gies and Victor Kraler, who hid the families and provided food and information.
Directed by Dave Henderson, Towngate’s production captures the life that Anne recorded in her diary – the claustrophobic realities of daily life; the fear, hope, laughter and grief the families shared and her complex coming-of-age story amid war and religious persecution.
Taylor Andrews plays Anne Frank. Other cast members include: Emily Bench as Margot Frank, Walt Warren as Otto Frank, Cathie Spencer as Edith Frank, Rob DeSantis as Mr. Van Daan, Maria McKelvey as Mrs. Van Daan, Adam Marquart as Peter Van Daan, Evan Oslund as Albert Dussel, Jim Showalter as Mr. Kraler and Elizabeth Jeffers as Miep Gies.
Oglebay Institute director of performing arts Tim Thompson said one reason Towngate decided to do a production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” is because “the more people are aware, the less chance this will happen again. Like it says at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.: ‘Remember what you saw.’ When seeing our production … remember what you saw.”
Thompson also said many middle school students in the area study this play as part of their curriculum, and “it’s a great opportunity for them to see it onstage.”
This is the first play of Towngate’s 50th season, which is sponsored by Unified Bank. Other upcoming shows include: “Miracle on 34th Street,” “The Shaughraun” and “Our Town.”
Towngate is the premier venue for community theater in Wheeling, providing an intimate theater experience with talented local actors performing in a variety of thought-provoking, heartwarming, comedic and historically significant works from renowned playwrights and talented newcomers.
A church-turned-theater, Towngate is located in Wheeling’s historic Centre Market District and serves as an entertainment destination for residents of Wheeling, the Upper Ohio Valley and beyond. In addition to community theater, Towngate also offers poetry and spoken word performances, children’s theater, ballet, improvisational comedy and live music. Towngate is also home to the Wheeling Film Society and features changing art exhibitions in The Gallery at Towngate. Theater classes for children and adults are also offered year-round.
Evening performances of “The Diary of Anne Frank” take place at 8 p.m. Sept. 21, 22, 28 and 29. A matinee performance takes place at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23.
Tickets can be purchased in advance at www.oionline.com or by calling 304-242-7700. Tickets can also be purchased at the door, if available.