There is a lot of uncertainty in the world today. Perhaps that is why watching The Diary of Anne Frank at Patchogue Theatre earlier this month was so emotional and hard-hitting. Unfortunately, it had to close early due to restrictions put in place because of the Coronavirus.
Starring in The Diary of Anne Frank as Otto Frank was actor Matthew Conlon, who splits his time living in Greenwich Village and staying at his Remsenburg home. Conlon has appeared in many productions on the East End, as well as in TV shows and feature films. In fact, Conlon helped build the Bay Street Theater. Conlon said he also enjoys the Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge, bordering on both Little Peconic Bay and Noyack Creek and he “loves every bay and beach” on the East End. Of course, he has a soft spot for the Quogue Community Hall – where he has performed/starred in so many Hampton Theatre Company productions.
After watching his performance in The Diary of Anne Frank, I asked him what did he learn from such a powerful role? He said, “I learned much more about the Holocaust than any role had previously demanded of me. Playing a real person – this man – was a tremendous honor. So the commitment to research was intense for the two weeks after casting, prior to rehearsal. It was exhausting. I was very grateful that the Auschwitz exhibit at the Jewish Heritage Museum in the Battery had extended. It was invaluable.” I can truly say I have seen Matthew in many roles, but this performance was his most emotional and, in my opinion, his best.
Next, I asked about the fact that the play had to be canceled due to the Coronavirus after two performances – one for students and the one I attended for friends and family. He relayed, “In the performance, the best part had to be bringing the story alive for the two mornings of middle schoolers we played for. The importance of re-telling the facts of the Holocaust cannot be overemphasized. Especially today. We had a terrific cast with Allie DeMatteo as Anne Frank, Carolann Di Pirro as Edith Frank, Elena Faverio as Meip Gies, Bob Kaplan as Albert Drussel, Allyssa Marino as Margot Frank, Lisa Meckes as Mrs.Van Daan, James Schultz as Mr. Kraler, and Lucas Varacek as Peter Van Daan. All were highly professional and a joy to work with. I feel like we became a family in a way, beyond the usual cast bond, because of the extreme demands of the story and history. Our director Joe Minutillo encouraged us to stay together through breaks and meals to enhance cohesion. Gary Hygom and The Patchogue Theatre provided our platforms and set elements in our rehearsal space at the Congregational Church to facilitate our move to the stage. We were accustomed to climbing around. It was second nature.”
When I asked him was the last premature final production emotional, Matthew, ever the professional actor, was guarded yet reveling when he said, “I don’t think the performance Friday was anymore or less emotional than our first two. Of course, I was acutely aware that Werner Reich [Holocaust survivor] was there and I was determined to bring it home for him. And last shows are always ‘charged’ for the cast with that extra something. But, all of the shows were deeply, I hope appropriately, emotional. In playing the only survivor of The Secret Annex, I felt obliged to ‘leave it all on the field.'”
What Conlon was referring to about being the only survivor, in real life Otto Frank survives the brutal concentration camps and lives to be 91. His two daughters Margot and Anne and his wife, Edith, perished just weeks before the camps were liberated.
After the performance, I ran into Conlon and his lovely wife in the lobby. I thanked him for his performance. I will continue to remember the perseverance of Otto Frank forever and understand today’s difficulties with the Coronavirus and staying indoors is a walk in a park compared to what the Frank family went through.