By Kathy Flynn
Stan Zimmerman at the Complex Theatre
After a sold out run last fall, Stan Zimmerman's production of The Diary of Anne Frank is returning to the Dorie Theatre at the Complex for a 6 week engagement. The original run came with its share of controversy before it even opened, due to the casting of Latinx performers in the roles.
Discover Hollywood sat down with Zimmerman to discuss the story behind the controversial casting, his work at the Complex Theatre, and what his next move will be.
"[The reaction to Anne Frank] kind of took us all by surprise. I didn't know it would turn into a worldwide news event."
Zimmerman was originally working on another play, a new production of Justin Tanner's Teen Girl, when he saw a story on CNN about a safe house in L.A., and was bothered by the separation of families at the border. "There are safe houses hiding people here?" thought Zimmerman, "And of course my mind went right to
Diary of Anne Frank. I thought what if I cast everybody in the attic with Latin actors, and then I called friends and said 'Is this a crazy idea or an interesting idea?' And they were like, 'No, the hairs on my arms stood up, you have to do it, you have to it right now.'"
From that point on, everything just came together. Getting the rights from Dramatists Play Service, which normally takes two to three weeks, happened literally overnight. People from all over the theatre community came together, asking how they could help.
Cast of The Diary of Anne Frank
Standing: Tasha Dixon (Mrs. Frank), Emiliano Torres (Mr. Frank), Raquenel (Mrs. Van Daan), Robert C. Raicch (Mr. Van Daan), Keith Coogan (Mr. Kraler), Heather Olt (Miep), Genesis Ochoa (Anne Frank) Seated: David Gurrola (Peter Van Daan), Raymond Abel Tomas (Mr. Dussell)
Photo by Elvira Barjau
The first night of rehearsals, Zimmerman received a text from a friend that he was trending on Drudge Report. "Why would I be trending?" wondered Zimmerman, "and I looked it up and it said 'Zimmerman changes the Nazi's to I.C.E. agents in the script', and I am not changing anything, I am literally doing word for word. And then Breitbart picked it up and then from Breitbart it just literally blew up. Geraldo Rivera that Sunday was screaming about our show on Fox and Friends. Hate mail started coming in, and people started calling the theater and they said 'I think you need to get security, we are getting really worried.' And then it became something bigger."
That Monday, Zimmerman woke up to Dramatists Play Service revoking his license to the play because he was changing the script. "Again, they didn't even call me. So I had to go back and forth with them and say I am not changing anything. Are you saying I can't cast Latin actors? And then...silence, for like an hour. And I could just see them freaking out because if they had taken that stance I am sure the theatre community would have jumped down their throats. Who's to say what you can cast? I found out the play was done in 1957 in Spain, in Spanish. So are you saying other countries can't do the play? Their can only be white people doing it? Only white Jewish people? So it becomes a big, big discussion."
"I thought we would have protestors the first day. But luckily the whole controversy started in the very beginning and I was lucky enough to go on CNN and say the truth. And actually some right-wing people wrote articles saying there's no there there. I think people wanted to be upset."
Talking about the play itself, Zimmerman said, "I learned so much I didn't know, I went to Sunday school and won a little Menorah for being a good little student, but I didn't know a lot of the specifics. I've been to Amsterdam and I went to Anne Frank's house, but I didn't know that Anne's father tried to get them into America and because of our immigration system and the paperwork he couldn't get in. So there's another parallel."
"Just hearing the words of this little 14, 15 year old girl wrote, it's just so amazing to me that she was so insightful and saw the beauty in things in such a harsh time."
Genesis Ochoa as Anne Frank
Photo by Elvira Barjau
"There are two play versions of this. In 1997, they did a version on Broadway with Natalie Portman. They had a new writer come in, Wendy Kesselman, and go back to the original diary and take out new excerpts that were not allowed the first time, like Anne talking about hating her mother or blossoming as a young woman and practicing kissing with her girlfriends, and at that time you couldn't talk about that, so it's a little more adult. I decided to do that version. I also felt that it really hadn't been seen so it would be fresh to some people. I think that is part of the confusion, when people see 'newly adapted' they think 'Oh he took the original play and changed it to I.C.E. agents, but legally I have to have that in print, so I have to explain, that's from '97, it has nothing to do with today. And people are kind of surprised when they come because they are expecting something else. But then they are very moved."
Another Stan Zimmerman play, Yes, Virginia just closed at the Complex, so he was in the unusual position of taking a photo with two of his plays on the Complex marquee at once.
"I feel so lucky that [Complex owner and managing director] Monica [Martin] has been so supportive."
Monica Martin replied "I met Stan when he was doing Yes, Virginia the first time down at Studio C, and I really loved the show."
"Yes, Virginia was really cool because that's based on my mother and her longtime housekeeper and my mother dealing with dementia. It's really funny, it's almost like
Golden Girls which I wrote for." said Zimmerman.
Martin added, "It's a show with two really large female personalities and in the smaller space I felt like they were a little bit inhibited, so I said come check out the bigger spaces to see how it feels. And it ended up that that we did not get to do it the first year, there was a conflict with one of the actresses, but he said but I've got this other show that I want to do. So we did Pledge, which was highly successful and then just went on to do the others, and he transforms the same stage every time to a completely different setting. He's really got a wonderful eye for that, and for directing. The comedy's great and
Anne Frank is an amazing dramatic piece. The way that he has set it up is so relevant to what is happening right now in America. I love supporting that kind of work as much as I love supporting the comedies he has done."
When asked what's next on his plate, Zimmerman replied,"Well I mostly do comedy but I am juggling a couple ideas of what to do next here, at this space. The other really serious play that I wrote is a play called Right Before I Go. A very close friend of mine died by suicide about 6 years ago. And as a comedy writer I didn't know what to do with that and how to process it. And then I had the idea, what if I started collecting real suicide notes and have actors read them on stools like
Vagina Monologues. So we did it about 4 years ago at the Fringe Festival and a producer friend in NY optioned it last year. So when we close this show on the 24th of February I am going right to NY and working with the director for a few days and we are going to do a little workshop in front of people in NY just to hear it again."
"And then it's just deciding whether to do Teen Girl or, there's a couple of other plays rolling around in my head that I want to do. I can't stop doing theatre because it's so crazy in the world today and I feel like I can't just sit home and scream at cable news all day. I've got to come here and either make people laugh or think or talk or something."
The Diary of Anne Frank runs Jan 12 thru Feb 24 at the Dorie Theatre at the Complex. Located at 6476 Santa Monica Blvd. Los Angeles, CA. 90038. Performances will be Friday & Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm. General advance admission is $25 and reserved advance seating is $35. For tickets, visit