At RMTC’s Tom Hendry Warehouse, Sobler’s The Secret Annex, Anne Frank (Tal Gottfried) has survived the war and moved to New York to start life over with her sister Margot (Daria Puttaert) and close friend Peter van Pels (Andrew Cecon). The play challenges us through its revisionist history to consider Anne as just one of many survivors, eking out a mundane existence and trying to make sense of life after war. Stripped of her martyrdom, the play posits that Anne Frank as a war survivor is simply not as compelling as the tragic figure we’ve made of her. It’s a controversial premise, but certainly one that warrants deep consideration over a knee-jerk dismissal.
Sobler’s Anne Frank starts her new life as an optimistic, juvenile dreamer who believes her entire purpose for surviving the war is to share her story. But as Anne learns from an ambitious, at times altruistic, female publisher (Jennifer Lyon), she is in a man’s world and her story of survival told from a child’s point of view simply won’t sell. It’s incredible to imagine a publisher turning down a story that is so well known in our time simply because the author’s life didn’t end in tragedy. In Sobler’s version of events, Anne Frank survives the war only to be met with a tragedy of another kind—an existential crisis of the self.
If Anne cannot publish her work then she is not a writer, and if she is not a writer who is she? The play explores Anne’s internal crisis as someone who is in a constant state, as Jean-Paul Sartre would say, of trying to be who she is. Gottfried plays Anne’s transition from a youthful, hopeful girl into someone who is increasingly remote and disillusioned with such subtlety that her pain of rejection builds slowly into heartbreaking madness, culminating in a scene where Anne can’t be sure that she isn’t still back in the annex and that her escape and subsequent life aren’t just a dream.
Anne’s second life is the kind of existence that no one would wish on a person who had survived such horrors, but Sobler isn’t being sadistic in putting Anne through this, and what happens to Anne isn’t unique. Like so many survivors, Anne is overwhelmed by the feeling that her life has to mean more than that which her sister has settled for: the husband, the house, a few kids. For all its weight the play does find some notes of hope. In her search for meaning, Anne discovers that maybe just being alive and embracing existence is enough. If The Diary of Anne Frank was never published the world would’ve been the poorer for it, but if the reason it was never published was because Anne Frank survived the war, I don’t think anyone would really care what kind of life she lived, the fact is that she would have lived and that would have been enough.
Post by Josh Benoit
*Photos courtesy of RMTC – Photographer Bruce Monk
Joshua Benoit is a freelance writer, musician with the local band, Pumas and videographer living in Winnipeg. He is passionate about food, philosophy, travel and Kurt Vonnegut. At one time he thought he wanted to be an optometrist but ultimately found more joy in words than in formulas, just as he derives more pleasure from whiskey than from soda.
His life goals are modest and include owning a dog with an aloof demeanor and a needy cat, publishing no less than eleven novels (some of them trash), and possibly raising children, though he’d settle for a weekly afterschool special in which he could impart his street-wise verbiage to the children of the world.
Joshua studied English and Film at the University of Manitoba and took his sweet time about getting his B.A. He now works for the Department of Education and is continuing his creative writing studies through the University of Toronto. To get in touch with Joshua, write to him at email@example.com