‘The Diary of Anne Frank LatinX’ : A Story For Today

Reviewed by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

Noted in 2018 as ‘inspired by a real-life immigration story’ by Deadline Hollywood, Director Stan Zimmerman’s take on Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s (and newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman ’97 Broadway version) play, The Diary of Anne Frank LatinX is making yet another return to The Complex, Hollywood as a word for word presentation of the 1997 production that Natalie Portman starred in on Broadway.

Being produced by Pop-Up Playhouse in conjunction with Anne Kathryn Parma the show has gained worldwide notoriety for using a predominately LatinX cast, an artistic choice inspired by a CNN report about the true story of a Jewish woman in Los Angeles who created a ‘Safe House’ for a Latina mother and her two daughters after her husband was deported by ICE.

There is a certain expectation with a story this powerful.  We as a world-wide culture are so close to forgetting the brutal vision and execution of Hitler’s (Nazi) state-sponsored genocide of the Jewish people which took place only less than 100 years ago. There is an added expectation that setting such an important story inside the explosive current politics surrounding the presidential and party exploitation of disenfranchised people for the popular mostly, right-wing vote.  In this case, undocumented immigrants who are being deported by the United States government to, in addition, satisfy the agenda of building a wall to keep them out.

So, putting Anne’s face, words, emotions, fears, loves, troubles and celebrations in a modern context is a definitive reminder that the more things change the more they stay the same. And let’s face it when it comes to fear and prejudice, not much has.

In truth,  sometimes at the beginning, Anne Frank LatinX feels more like a band-aid.  However, in the grand scheme of the human experience, it’s so on point, it’s in danger of becoming the final mold.

The cast, Genesis Ochoa (Anne), Emiliano Torres (Mr. Frank), Raquenel (Mrs. Van Daan), Nikki Mejia (Margot), David Gurrola (Peter), Heather Olt (Miep), Robert C. Raicch (Mr. Van Daan), Keith Coogan (Mr. Kraler), Tasha Dixon (Mrs. Frank), Raymond Abel Tomas (Mr. Dussell) and Aris Alvarado (Mr. Dussell – alternate), pull off this production in a recognizable, colloquial flow, for today’s audiences, staying 100% within the context of the play. It’s not particularly Latino outside of the cast. Mrs. Van Daan’s (Raquenel) outbursts occasionally have a soap opera quality to them. But these are not particularly anything except occasionally melodramatic. And she is by far one of the most likable characters, although one of the neediest in the group.

What it is…is an evolution of a lot of people living together in a space too small to contain them, on the verge of exploding because of the enormous exceptions they’ve had to make for their ever-endangered lives.  They must not wear shoes during the day. They must not use the toilet until everyone in the building has gone home. They must not talk until after 6pm. There is a cat, someone is allergic. Someone is always sick. There are children and they get on some of the adults’ nerves.  Some of the people are high-strung and chatty, it’s difficult to deal with. Above all, they are starving to death trying to pretend it’s fine and life is normal outside of the fact that it’s completely not.

Torres as Mr. Frank does an extraordinary job of centering this production as the practically only person with sense and compassion enough to keep the peace, and a good counter to Ochoa (Anne) who, being the very young child here often needs Torres’ embrace in more ways than physical in order to fulfill the dialog.  In this, they absolutely shine.

Overall, The Diary of Anne Frank LatinX isn’t merely a historical play somewhere in the distant past but a prescient point of view and a reminder that we as a culture could do better at finding a way forward.

There will be a special International Holocaust Remembrance Day performance on January 27thfollowed by a Q&A hosted by CNN’s Kyung Lah with survivors Gabriella Karin & Robert Geminder

Photo (above):  Standing: Tasha Dixon (Mrs. Frank), Emiliano Torres (Mr. Frank), Raquenel (Mrs. Van Daan), Robert C. Raicch (Mr. Van Daan), Keith Coogan (Mr. Kraler), Heather Olt (Miep), Genesis Ochoa (Anne Frank) Seated: David Gurrola (Peter Van Daan), Raymond Abel Tomas (Mr. Dussell)

Photo (above) by Elvira Barjau

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