IF YOU GO
* What: "The Diary of Anne Frank"
* When: 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. Sundays through March 6.
* Where: Chattanooga Theatre Centre, 400 River St.
* Admission: $12.50-$30
* Phone: 267-8538.
* Website: www.theatrecentre.com.
Selections from the World Holocaust Museum in Georgia will be on display during the run of the show. The display has been brought by Chattanooga resident Sylvia Wygoda, whose father, Hermann Wygoda, was a Holocaust survivor.
How does one find hope in a story that knowingly ends with tragedy?
This was the challenge Beth Gumnick faced when she decided to direct "The Diary of Anne Frank," which opens tonight at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre.
"I tried not to put the emphasis on the fact that this is a tragic tale of a group of Jews that didn't survive but more on the will of the human spirit and that sort of pushing through, bolstering each other up as much as you can," said Gumnick, "trying to continue that normalcy that's so important, even in the most difficult time. It helps you stay connected to your own humanity."
First published in English in 1952, Anne Frank's "The Diary of a Young Girl," popularly known as "The Diary of Anne Frank," documents the more than two years teenage Anne was kept in hiding with her family and another during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. It is considered one of the foremost personal documents of World War II.
The director, who estimates she's directed about 20 productions with the Theatre Centre, said the play is a new adaptation and is more "streamlined" than the original version.
But don't call it Anne Frank Abridged.
"It still gives you excellent sense of the characters, and it's much faster-paced in terms of transitions and that sort of thing. It very much touches on the most significant and important ideas [of the book]."
Significant and important ideas like the strength of the human spirit. With that in mind, Gumnick encouraged her actors to focus on not playing the ending of the story.
"We want to give them a sense of the life in these characters. We really tried to put an emphasis on the living, because Anne kept a diary that documented so well her full range of emotions."
Gumnick said a few things inspired her to choose "Anne Frank" as her selection, including the 2010 death of Miep Gies, who hid the Franks and van Daans (actual name: van Pels) but what moved her to want to direct the story most is her students.
By day, she teaches eighth-grade drama at The Baylor School. She thought the story would be apt for that age group.
"Although this play isn't specifically geared toward middle-school students, I think it's a really excellent play for middle-school-age theatergoers, because that is the central character. It's someone who is living exactly the same emotions and hormonal stuff and the ups and downs of growing up."
She said she sees a lot of similarities between Anne Frank and her students.
"She was brilliant and she was philosophical and she was wise beyond her years, but she was still such a kid. That is a connection I think young people can still really make to her."
The play deals with frustrations between parent and child, the confusion of first romance and the turmoil of adolescence, which, Anne shows us, cannot be escaped, regardless of circumstance.
At its heart, truly, "The Diary of Anne Frank" is about growing up.
"She's forced to grow up, but all kids are going to be anyway," said Gumnick. "It gives a real sense of the young person's experience of this."