Divine Child H.S. to perform “The Diary of Anne Frank”

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Cast members of “The Diary of Anne Frank” rehearse a scene Oct. 26 in the Divine Child High School Auditorium. The show will be performed at 7 p.m. Nov. 17, 18 and 19 and at a 3 p.m. Nov. 20 matinee. Cast members include Jordan Ebejer (left) as Mr. Kraler, Cara Ruetz as Miep, Samantha Meyers as Anne Frank, Kara Frank as Mrs. van Daan, Nick Swider as Mr. van Daan, Harry Totten as Peter van Dann and Zach Ross as Mr. Frank.

By Sue Suchyta
Divine Child High School in Dearborn will present “The Diary of Anne Frank” as their fall play at 7 p.m. Nov. 17, 18 and 19, and at 3 p.m. Nov. 20 in the school auditorium.

The play, set during World War II, is based on the diary of a young Jewish girl, Anne Frank, who, with the help of Dutch friends, hid with her family and others for two years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. They were found by the Nazis in 1944 and deported to concentration camps. After the war, Anne’s father, the family’s only known survivor, published portions of his daughter’s diary.

The show is being directed and produced by Karen Pritchard, with technical direction by Robert Bush.

The student assistant directors are Dearborn residents Nadine Makki, a 16-year-old sophomore and Michael Gutierrez, a 17-year-old senior, who is also understudying the role of Anne’s father.

The cast features Samantha Meyers, a 16-year-old junior from Dearborn Heights as Anne Frank.

Dearborn residents in the cast include Emily Ward, a 16-year-old sophomore as Margot Frank, Zach Ross, a 17-year-old senior as Anne’s father, and Adrienne Walling, a 15-year-old junior as Anne’s mother.

Nick Swider, an 18-year-old senior from Livonia will play Mr. van Daan, Kara Frank, a 17-year-old senior from Dearborn will play Mrs. van Daan, and Harry Totten, a 16-year-old junior from Dearborn Heights will play Peter van Daan.

Other cast members include Chris Wepler, a 16-year-old junior from Belleville as Mr. Dussel, Cara Ruetz, a 16-year-old junior from Dearborn as Miep (and understudy for Mrs. van Daan) and Jordan Ebejer, a 17-year-old senior from Detroit as Mr. Kraler (and understudy for Mr. van Daan).

The Nazi soldiers will be played by sophomore Nick Demmer and freshmen Sean Vichinsky and John Burklow, who is also understudying the role of Peter van Daan.

Ronnie Noonan, a 15-year-old sophomore from Dearborn will understudy the part of Anne Frank, while Kelly O’Brien, a 17-year-old senior from Redford, will understudy the part of Margot Frank.

Meyers, who plays Anne Frank, said that while aspects of the story are depressing, the play is more about hope than fear.

“The overall feeling, especially for Anne, is the hope that she feels and the excitement that she always brings to the people around her,” Meyer said. “And that’s just such an uplifting part of the play.”

Meyers said that Anne Frank’s positive attitude despite her circumstances caught her attention.

“A lot of people think that it’s all doom and gloom when it comes to what happened during the Holocaust,” Meyers said. “But she takes a very positive attitude… it just shows that there can be good things happening even in the worst of situations.”

Noonan, who is understudying the role of Anne Frank, said that she felt Anne was very brave for a 13-year-old.

Ruetz who plays Miep Gies, one of the Franks’ protectors, recently read the diary on which the play is based.

“Everyone knows how it ends, but… there (are) a lot of happy moments and light-hearted times and you just see how it was for them to live in that situation,” Ruetz said.

Ruetz said that she thinks the show will make people think about what the people in hiding endured.

Kara Frank plays Mrs. van Daan, whose character clings to the few cherished possessions she brought with her into hiding to symbolically retain a small part of the lifestyle she lost.

She said each character brings some aspect of hope to the play, and together they make the best of a bad situation.

“I feel like that’s a very positive message,” Kara Frank said. “They’re always thanking God every day that they’re still here… there’s still some good in all the bad.”

Swider plays Mr. van Daan, who creates much of the conflict within the small confines of the annex. He said it is inspiring, though, that the characters managed to set aside their differences to survived in close quarters under stressful circumstances.

Does he think something like (the Holocaust) could happen again?

“Unfortunately I think it could,” Swider said. “When it comes to political situations, when a country is hurting morally, patriotically and economically and someone who has an idea – an extreme idea – steps into power, then worlds can change and ideas can collide and what becomes of those ideas can be a catastrophe and an atrocity like we’ve seen from World War II.”

Totten, who plays Peter van Daan, said that unlike his character, he would find it more difficult to be confined to a small annex with a sibling than with his parents.

“I probably would get a little bit crazy after a while,” Totten said. “Some days you just need to get out and breathe a little bit of fresh air.”

Walling, who plays Mrs. Frank, said she encourages others to see the show because of the time period’s importance.

“It is a very important part of history,” Walling said, “It changed how we think today. And while people think it is depressing because it is such a heavy subject, it is very hopeful and I think they will enjoy it.”

Ebejer, who plays Mr. Kraler, who helped hide the Franks and the others in the annex, noted that the Dutch – including his character – put their own lives at risk by helping Jews hide from the Nazis.

Welper, who plays Dussel, a dentist, said that it’s interesting to see what will bring out the best and the worst in people.

“Obviously the Holocaust certainly brought out the best and the worst,” Ebejer said. “It’s interesting to see how – especially in Anne – it brought out the best in her. She became a lot better person for it and it really does give a person a feeling of hope.”

Ward, who plays Margot Frank, the older sister, characterized her as a peacemaker, the “calm wave in the sea of emotions.”

“She’s very tense and very nervous, but she can’t bring that out,” Ward said. “She’s expected to be the peaceful, quiet one.”

She encourages others to come see the show even though it’s not the happiest of endings.

“I think Michigan and people in general are going through a tough time now and I think they would be inspired by the message that these people were probably living under the worst conditions… and somehow they were able to still have a life for themselves and still have celebrations and see the optimism and hope in it all.”

Ross, who plays Mr. Frank, noted that the play actually starts with the end, and then goes back in time to tell the story.

“When I first arrive, I’m a shell of a man,” Ross said. “I’m broken; I’m distraught about what’s happened in the past. Revisiting my past in this place totally breaks me down but then as I’m reading Anna’s diary I’m kind of comforted by the things that she said, and… I’m a lot more confident and courageous.”

Burklow, who plays a Nazi guard and who is understudying Peter van Daan, said that he’s working at bringing out the anger of a teen stuck in a place he doesn’t want to be.

“What they went through was really tough and a lot of people went through it,” Burklow said. “When (the cast and crew) went to the Holocaust (Memorial) Center (in Farmington Hills) we talked to a survivor who hid out in a barn for two years with her family.”

Producer and director Karen Prichard said she took the cast and crew to the Holocaust Memorial Center to give the students a sense of the environment and what it was really like.

She directed “The Diary of Anne Frank” at Divine Child in 1983, and said they are inviting the alumni who worked on that show to come back and see it.

“I don’t really want to get real political but I just couldn’t help but thinking that there were just so many lessons of optimism and still finding hope in the middle of a crisis that I think we as an American people can still latch on to and really use,” Pritchard said. “Because we still are at war, there still is genocide going on around the world, and we’re very prone to being doomsday ‘oh woe is me,’ but if the Frank family can find reason to still be optimistic (amidst) all the terror that they had to live through I think that we can have some hope and faith too.”