Dreams of Anne Frank: A Play for Young People

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Play by Bernard Kops, 1993

Dreams of Anne Frank is a play that is intended for younger audiences. Bernard Kops believed that a theater should be a place of education. In his essay "The Young Writer and Theater," Kops pleads his case for a change in traditional theater, stating, "We [writers] write about the problems of the world today because we live in the world of today. We write about the young, because we are young. We write about Council Flats and the H-bomb and racial discrimination because these things concern us and concern the young people of our country, so that if and when they come to theatre, they will see that it is not divorced from reality, that it is for them and they will feel at home." Kops's play Dreams of Anne Frank, first produced in England in 1992, is written in a light style, with musical continuity and sudden action, all of which serves to keep the attention of a younger audience. Anne's imagination is stressed, and she uses it to transport herself and others in the Annex to magical, as well as to frightening, places. "In captivity you can be free inside your head … use your imagination and it's all yours!" she exclaims. The reality of life always returns with a blow, and it is always a reality with which children can relate, such as their own powerless in an adult world, a world that not only takes away a child's property but also a child's life. The personality of Anne has also been reinvented in this play, as opposed to the version of Anne's personality portrayed in films about her. In the 1959 film version starring Millie Perkins as Anne, Anne is much older looking and barely utters a harsh word. Kops's Anne is much more childish and talks back quite readily. Even in her diary, she does not come across as such an upstart. This is a facet of Anne's personality to which children can relate much more easily. The character of Mrs. Van Daan has also been given a much beefier and more cantankerous role. Kops sarcastically portrays her describing herself in a prideful manner, using adjectives such as polite and courteous. Of all the adjectives she uses to her benefit, not one fits her.

In this play Anne is much more the optimist and the one to whom others turn for answers. Her writing while in hiding lends her a more contemplative character, making her seem to be the one who knows more than any of the other Annex inhabitants and the interpreter of what they are all hearing on the radio. Her diary is her world of truth, hope, and humanity, attributes that Mrs. Van Daan is not only in short supply of but also abstract connotations for which she lacks any comprehension. Anne's imagination wreaks havoc with the adults; she often believes that what her imagination is telling her is the truth. Helpful on stage are the visuals that are used to portray Anne's dreams and nightmares, from the wedding to Peter that she will never have a chance to experience to a gingerbread house in the Black Forest, guarded by Mrs. Van Daan, the evil witch. Anne's nightmares are the result of a childhood that she has had to prematurely give up. She dreams of loss of life, of death, and of tragedy. In the gingerbread house there is a large oven, an efficient one built by the Germans. "There's lots of Jews waiting to be admitted. Gingerbread and hard work makes free," says the evil witch (Mrs. Van Daan).

One character that is intentionally absent from the play is Miep Gies, who, along with her husband, provided news and food to the Franks and the others. Her role is symbolized by the helping hand that often appears through a hatch on stage. In this way Kops has simplified the actual diary by allowing only a minimal number of characters on the sparsely set stage. The entire focus of the play is thus on Anne and her dreams, a young person with yearnings and fears like any other child, but a child who is living under conditions that are far different from those of the play's audience.

The play ends not with Nazi violence but with a simple disappearance of the diary from Anne's hands, symbolizing the fact that the inhabitants have been betrayed. There is no violence on the stage, but it is evident to the young audience members that Anne will now go away. Her nightmare is about to begin, as all the Annex inhabitants remove their clothing to reveal prison camp stripes underneath. Anne addresses her audience in a touching monologue at the end, and the stage darkens. There is only a light shining upon her diary.

"All the books ever written cannot be weighed against the value of one child's life. I would gladly swap it, throw it away, or have it unwritten if only I could have Anne again, living." It is with these words that Otto Frank closes the diary and the curtain falls.

—Cynthia A. Klíma