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Love, Home And Danger On The Set Of 'The Diary Of Anne Frank'

Kansas City Repertory Theatre
The set, designed by Maya Linke, is an 'open structure that is very porous.'

In the 1930s and 1940s, many Jews in Europe lived in fear — or in hiding — from the Nazis. 

A cramped attic in Amsterdam served as a makeshift home for two years for Anne Frank, her family, and four others. 

This secret annex was discovered, and Anne’s father, Otto Frank, was the only one to survive the concentration camps – but their stories live on through Anne’s diary, first published in 1947. 

Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl, was turned into a play and a film in the 1950s. Now, decades later, there’s an update for a new era. 

Marissa Wolf, director of new works at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre since 2015, is tall and energetic with short blonde hair. The new production of The Diary of Anne Frank marks her directorial debut at the Rep. 

"It is joyful and exciting to me to work on this contemporary classic," Wolf says of the Tony-nominated Wendy Kesselman adaptation. It's based on the definitive edition of Anne Frank's diary. Published in 1995, this version of the diary includes pages and passages left out five decades earlier. 

"I was excited to work with the Kesselman text because for me the way into the play is really through Anne's voice and the lens through which she sees the world," Wolf says. 

Wolf worked closely with set designer Maya Linke, a longtime collaborator. The two together have a very specific style. 

Credit Kansas City Repertory Theatre
Kansas City Repertory Theatre
Teenagers Anne Frank (Rachel Shapiro) and Peter Van Daan (Daniel Beeman) have a budding romance in the annex, despite the dangers looming.

"We both read the script many times, we sit with it," says Wolf, and then, she brings in research images, often evoking feelings or emotions. In the case of The Diary of Anne Frank, these were images representing Anne's inner life. 

"And for me, those are usually not literal, they're usually imagistic," Wolf says.

"For this piece, I went to [Marc] Chagall, to an amazing painter and writer Charlotte Salomon, who lived through the Holocaust, Martin Puryear, a big range of artists."

Linke says she incorporated these ideas, and added her own architectural research. 

The set is crafted from dark wood — with several stories, and a series of staircases, it's open and high. A giant bookshelf in the back is filled with cardboard and shards of glass. It's a nod, she says, to the tenuous safety of the bookshelf that concealed the entrance to the annex.

"What I created was this open structure that's very porous," Linke says. "It's like a membrane where you can sort of see into their world, but you can feel that there's danger from the outside. And it's also this idea of excavation, too, in the sense that we're excavating more of her diary with this version."

Kansas City Repertory Theatre presents 'The Diary of Anne Frank' through February 21 at the Spencer Theatre, 4949 Cherry Street, Kansas City, Missouri. 816-235-2700. The production is accompanied by the Anne Frank Center's exhibition, "Anne Frank: A History for Today."

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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