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Final Weekend For Art History Theater’s ‘Anne Frank’

Lolly Boroff plays role her aunt Shelley Winters made famous

Photo credit: Lolly Boroff

The Van Daan Family in American History Theater's production of "The Diary of Anne Frank:" Mr Van Daan (David Janisch), Mrs Van Daan (Lolly Boroff), and Peter Van Daan (Julian De La Mora).

American History Theater has three final performances of "The Diary of Anne Frank" at White Box Theater this weekend. Actress Lolly Boroff plays the role her aunt Shelley Winters made famous.

The play of "The Diary of Anne Frank" adapts the famous real life diary kept by a young girl while she was in hiding for two years with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

"This is an absolutely iconic play," Boroff said. "It is timeless. I would just say that this is one of the most important plays that you could possibly ever see. Its message is universal especially with the rise in anti-Semitism along with hate crimes and violence against minorities. This play calls out to every one of us. Its message is ongoing. I wish it wasn't true but if it is true that this play reverberates through all strata of society and is relevant on all levels."

The themes of the plays coupled with its historical foundation make it the perfect play for American History Theater to be presenting.

"Hal Berry, who is the producer, was a history teacher and he has championed many causes where he felt that there was unequal treatment of minorities or religious groups. So this is a passion of his and he cares deeply about this play," Boroff added. "And he was really the catalyst for putting it on. Recently, there were statistics about people who do not believe that the Holocaust ever even existed and that 6 million Jews along with many others were killed so this play needs to be done over and over and over because the Holocaust did happen and these atrocities did happen. And it's not just a Jewish play, it's a universal play."

White Box Theatre is a venue often used for dance and does not offer a huge space for a theatrical performance, but director Melissa Malloy tries to use that to her advantage by making the set design of the play claustrophobic and tight so the actors often bump into each other. It's that sense of claustrophobia that Boroff remembers her aunt talking about.

Photo credit: Lolly Boroff

Family photo of actress Shelley Winters with her daughter Vittoria Gassman and young Lolly Boroff with her mom Blanche.

Boroff felt she was destined to play Mrs. Van Daan in "Diary of Anne Frank." It was the role that won her aunt Shelley Winters an Oscar. The staging of the play emphasizes how the characters feel trapped in that attic and Boroff remembers her aunt talking about the closed set director George Stevens had for the film that helped to define her performance.

Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox

Shelley Winters as Mrs. Van Daan in "The Diary of Anne Frank" (1959). The role won her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

"George Stevens was the director and did everything that he could to create the actual atmosphere. He shut the soundstage down and made it extremely small. He had very few lights; it was quite dark. No one could leave. Once you arrive there was no leaving. The doors were locked. Lunch was served on set. You couldn't make phone calls and they lived that way as long as the cameras were rolling and even during rehearsals. The set was very small, claustrophobic and so she often was extremely traumatized by this experience," Boroff said. "There was one story of when she arrived home and they were working on our street and she walked into our home and she was in an absolute panic and was sure that a bomb had just hit. And she made us all hide under the beds I remember being forced to crawl under the bed. She was absolutely terrified. It took hours for her to realize that it was more her experience of the film than it was the actual reality. And I always have thought of that as a very cherished memory of how dedicated and serious of an actress she was and that she took it so seriously and I hope that I have some of that within me."

Boroff has acted in the play "The Diary of Anne Frank" before but she was initially cast as Mrs. Frank. She confesses that she was disappointed that she had been cast in that role and not that of Mrs. Van Daan. But for this production, she finally landed the role she felt she was destined to play.

"Mrs. Van Daan has this lively spirit. This vim and vigor. This absolute lust for life," Boroff said. "And she refuses to accept what their fate could be and I think she was always hopeful whereas Mrs. Frank is more frightened and almost has already given up even when they first go into hiding. So I mean to be truthful, Mrs. Van Daan is just so much more fun and even under the worst of circumstances, she always found a way to have fun and to love life. She never gave up. She was a survivor until the very end. And I just think that she never thought that the end could be what it actually was."

Borrof hopes that she's making her aunt proud by finally getting to play this role.

"The Diary of Anne Frank" has three final performances this Friday through Sunday at White Box Theatre in Liberty Station.

American History Theater has three final performances of "The Diary of Anne Frank" at White Box Theater this weekend. Actress Lolly Boroff plays the role her aunt Shelley Winters made famous.

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