Anne Frank at the Fringe

I first met Carol Lempert while a student of Gary Austin, founder of the Groundlings. Her one-woman shows include That Dorothy Parker and The Camino: Walking the Pilgrim Road. The latest, After Anne Frank, will open at the this year’s FringeNYC Festival. Prior to seeing it, I decided to ask Carol a few questions about the spiritual and religious dimensions of the piece.

You’ve been cast in three separate renditions of The Diary of Anne Frank. Can you elaborate on how this has informed your faith?

I grew up in a pretty secular household. I wasn’t sent to Hebrew school, and, except for lighting Hanukah candles, we didn’t really celebrate many holidays. When I first played Anne, I was a sophomore in college and I treated the part like any other role. By the time I was cast as Margot (Anne’s sister) I was starting to feel a growing hole about my Jewish identity. Between playing Margot when I was in my late 20s and playing Edith (Anne’s mother) six years ago,  had joined a temple and studied for my Bat Mitzvah. I was called to the Torah for the first time when I was 31. I think that in some strange way I ended up being an actor so that I’d be cast in these roles (and many other roles in the “Jewish Canon”) and find my way back to my Judaism.

How did studying with Gary Austin help you to develop After Anne Frank?

Gary’s work is very physical. Over the years he’s taught me to find a character’s body through asymmetrical movement. And to make arbitrary physical choices as a way to discover authentic human behavior. I play a slew of different characters in After Anne Frank: my uncle; Matilda, an 83 year old french woman who was in my  Bat Mitzvah class; Fran, a dentist, a southern tourist in the Anne Frank House; and myself at ages 6, 12, 23, 28, 31 and today. Gary’s work helped me find a “body” for each of them.

What additional research did you bring to this project?

I went to Amsterdam and visited the Anne Frank House. It was an amazing trip. I also did a tremendous amount of reading about how Holocaust survivors cope after the war. I reread Anne’s Diary and The Diary of Anne Frank dozens of times. As a writer she was quite a prodigy. And I listened to hours of oral history tapes at the Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History.

While rehearsing this play, what insights did you gleam for yourself?

The process of writing the piece clarified things for me. I already knew that telling one’s story is an act of healing. But actually sitting down to craft it in a theatrical way helped me articulate what I believe about the human condition: that forgiveness is everything.

Explore the dichotomy you faced in this play as you walk the line between the commandment of Jews to tell their stories and what you term the “commercialization-of-the-Holocaust?”

The answer to this is closely tied to what I mentioned before. Telling one’s story is an act of healing. And hearing someone else’s story can be an act of healing too if the listener comes to the experience with intention. I think it is only with a clear intention that we—as citizens of a commercial culture—can balance commercialism with spirituality. My deep hope is that after seeing the show, people will give thought to who, in their own life, they need to reconnect with or forgive.

Becky Garrison is a satirist/storyteller whose most recent book is Roger Williams’s Little Book of Virtues (Wipf & Stock, March 2020). Also, she edited Love, Always: Partners of Trans People on Intimacy, Challenge and Resilience (Transgress Press, 2015). Her six books include 2006’s Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church (PW, starred review).