Teen actress stars in 'Diary of Anne Frank' at Metropolis
As a senior at Stevenson High School, Claire Katz-Mariani has appeared in many of its plays, as well as in productions staged by the Buffalo Grove Park District.
But recently, she landed her biggest lead to date: the title role in "The Diary of Anne Frank," which opened Monday at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights, and runs through April 10.
Landing the part brings Katz-Mariani full circle. Some five years ago, she went to see the show at the Metropolis with her eighth-grade class from Daniel Wright Junior High School in Lincolnshire.
"That was definitely a moment of growth for me," says Katz-Mariani, who lives in Vernon Hills. "I was already a theater kid by then, so I was looking at it from a personal perspective, but it also made me realize that the Holocaust was real and that so many people really were killed."
Katz-Mariani says that she finds playing Anne Frank to be deeply personal, and she brings those emotions to her portrayal.
"Since I'm Jewish myself, and I have distant relatives who were killed in the Holocaust, her story is not that far away for me," she says. "On stage, I just try to encapsulate her story and just try to be Anne.
"But what sticks out the most for me is Anne's optimism," Katz-Mariani adds. "During these incredibly dismal times, she never gives up. She's spunky, outgoing and very engaging, but she's also very smart."
Director Steve Leaver cast Katz-Mariani in the role. He has had much experience with teenage actors, having taught acting at Metropolis since 2002, and representing the Theater for Young Audiences program while serving on the board of the Illinois Theatre Association.
"Claire is by far one of the most mature 17-year-olds I have ever worked with," Leaver says. "She thinks like an actor. She can articulate her objectives and tactics and justify her actions based on the script and character.
"In my experience working with high school students, these can be hard concepts for some to grasp," he adds. "Claire is ahead of many of her peers in that respect."
Officials with Metropolis have been staging "Anne Frank" nearly every year since the theater opened in 2000 as part of its "Stories in Action" series. The educational productions aim to "feed the imaginations of young audiences and bring families together through the performing arts."
This year's production already has schools coming from Palatine, Chicago, Hillside, Mundelein, Arlington Heights and Westmont during its two-week run, but schoolchildren will be seeing more than the one-act version put on in most presentations of the play for schoolchildren.
For the second year, Metropolis officials are staging an adaptation by Wendy Kesselman, which plays out over two acts and includes writings from Anne Frank's diary that originally were withheld by her father, but were released after his death.
The newer material includes some of Anne's thoughts about her parents and her thoughts on sexuality.
"I think it paints a more complete picture of Anne," Leaver says of Wesselman's adaptation. "It gives us a sense of what it would have been like for a teenager, going through the changes that teens have to go through, all while being restricted to living in an annex with the same people day in and day out."
If this adaptation offers a more three-dimensional portrait of Anne Frank, it also is more powerful in its storytelling, and haunting.
"It's definitely a dark story, and I have to separate myself from it after each performance," Katz-Mariani adds. "But I know that it's extremely important to share her story, and, in that way, it's a bright light."