Yolande Ramsay for Curtains Up
The Segal Centre presents The Secret Annex, a play that tells a powerful story of survival with romance, humour, grief, and dares to ask the question “What if?” What if Anne Frank had survived the Holocaust? What kind of life would she have? What would happen to her diary, one of the most important documents on the Holocaust?
The story opens 10 years after the war. Anne (Sara Farb) lives in New York City with her sister Margot (Anne Cassar). Peter (Brett Donahue) is still part of their lives, like it had been in the attic where they hid from the Nazis during the war. Anne is trying to get her diary published while Margot is making plans for marriage and Peter is considering career options as well as matrimony. Life is moving forward naturally, if not without stumbles, with grace and humour.
But Anne is having the biggest stumble of all: no one wants to publish her diary. Even as she moves on with married life to Michael (Marcel Jeannin), her soul and her mind are still trapped in the attic. She tries to find a reason or purpose to her survival by getting her story published, no matter what format it takes.
Ms. Farb is superb as Anne, portraying her feisty nature and exuberance with tender humour. It is easy to love her. Ms. Cassar portrays Margot as sensible and stalwart, but very empathic. She keeps Anne from being too self-involved. The actresses have a natural dynamic that anchors the sisters’ relationship. Mr. Donahue gives Peter an open but wounded heart whose frustrations at life are all too familiar. Mr. Jeannin plays Michael with perfect comic timing and charming warmth. Judith Baribeau as the cynical book editor, Virginia, is strong without overpowering the scene.
Most of the action take place in one-room settings, almost evoking the small space of the attic that Anne struggles to reconcile. The sets feature minimal furnishings, while not austere, have an elegant simplicity that evokes the advances of time and the characters’ circumstances. The costumes were faithful to the period, with a Mad Men flavour, but a good reflection of the characters’ personalities. The music also marks the march of time as Anne plays jazz and folk records reflecting her love of art and stories.
The tragedy of the Holocaust permeates the characters in many different ways: some manage to make it part of the past and move forward and some are so affected by the pain that they cannot see the life in front of them. Escape and Survival are two different experiences. It raises questions: What is the purpose of our lives? How do we remember the life that was or could have been? How do we make sense of tragedy?
“What if…” is not as important as “What is…”.
The Secret Annex: Presented by Segal Centre. Directed by Marcia Kash. Written by Alix Sobler.
Show continues until February 21, at Segal Centre, 5170 Chemin de la Côte-Ste-Catherine, Montreal. Tickets $59 to $24.50.Call the box office 514-739-7944 or go to www.segalcentre.org