AFTER ANNE FRANK written and performed by Carol Lempert (Lempert). At the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts (130 Navy). Thursday (November 22) 8 pm. Pwyc. 905-815-2021. See listing.
In the course of her acting career, Carol Lempert has performed all three Frank women in The Diary Of Anne Frank: the title character, her sister, Margot, and her mother, Edith. But the play has been more than a good vehicle for the talented Lempert; it's helped her reconnect with her family and Jewish heritage.
It's also led her to write her own solo show, After Anne Frank, which deals with identity, the Holocaust, forgiveness and theatre. The award-winning production has a single performance Thursday (November 22) at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts.
Lempert plays some 20 people in the show, which draws on an acting resume that includes a number of characters caught up in the Holocaust.
"The play was conceived several years ago during Passover, when an intense discussion broke out around my holiday table about the relationship between the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the Holocaust," recalls Lempert, who moved back to the States with her husband, comic Scotty Watson, several years ago.
"Growing up Jewish-American in a Michigan suburb, I was as thrilled as many teenage girls were when I discovered Anne Frank's book. It turned out to have more of an influence on my life than I ever expected, and it's led not only to my looking at my own history but also a conversation about the commercialization of the Holocaust."
After Anne Frank covers Lempert's history in the dramatic versions of the tale. Did you know that there are several plays that use the story, beginning with a suppressed script by Meyer Levin, a war correspondent who helped make the translated diary a success in North America before he adapted it for the stage?
That theatrical history is part of Lempert's play, as is the successful Broadway adaptation by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, later revised by Wendy Kesselman. Kesselman's script was the basis for one of Lempert's final Toronto performances, in a production at the Bathurst Street Theatre about a decade ago.
The iconic figure of Anne has inspired more than the stage adaptations. Nathan Englander's acclaimed collection of short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, is a current bestseller.
Lempert ties The Diary Of Anne Frank to the story of her Uncle Bill, a Holocaust survivor who refused to talk about the numbers tattooed on his arm. "Let's have a little nosh," he'd say, whenever the topic came up.
"Still with us, he's a survivor in every sense of the word. Bill was the religious authority in our family; he was orthodox, we were less observant. Since he thought girls shouldn't be bat mitzvahed, I didn't go through that rite of passage until I decided to when I was 28.
"It was the start of my exploring my heritage and learning to forgive."
Lempert's always been a fine storyteller and entertaining performer, best known in Toronto for her Fringe show That Dorothy Parker, also a hit at the New York Fringe. You can be sure that there's lots of comedy as well as thoughtful material in After Anne Frank.
In fact, its appeal reaches far beyond the specifics of Judaism and the Holocaust.
"I thought the play would reach a Jewish community or young women who identified with Anne Frank. But I learned that it spoke to a wider audience.
"After my third Fringe performance in New York, a woman waited for me at the stage door and thanked me for the work. ‘Your show is about secrets,' she confided in me. ‘As a child, I was a victim of incest; my family knew what my uncle did to me but no one spoke about it. I'm a Catholic Puerto Rican and never heard about Anne Frank before seeing your play, but it touched me deeply.'
"It was a teaching moment for me. As an artist, you never know how you'll touch an audience. A few days later, a man in his 80s thanked me for writing a show that dealt with trying to connect with God. A former priest, he wanted a family and had left the priesthood; the play spoke to his struggle."
Lempert also works as an executive coach, training people "to be better, effective human beings. That's just as much about who I am as my being an interpretive artist on stage or screen.
"After Anne Frank is, in its own subtle way, a learning exercise that talks about people making meaning of their existence and how that existence has an impact on others. While it's a piece of storytelling, it's also about the experience of coming together and sharing as an audience."