Otto Frank [Under the Radar 2023]

Held at The Public Theater’s flagship building at Astor Place and five partner venues, Under the Radar Festival is a highlight of the winter arts season in New York City, spotlighting the best of experimental theater from artists around the world. The 18th annual edition of the festival runs from January 4 to 22 and features 36 productions, ranging from full on orchestrated epics to introspective monologue stints. TV and City will be attending and covering several Under the Radar shows.

By Elazar Abrahams

The Diary of Anne Frank is one of the most ubiquitous records of war-torn Europe and the Holocaust. Published in over 70 languages, most know the story of the tween girl and her family forced into hiding from the Nazis and their subsequent capture and death in the concentration camps. A new one man monologue explores the perspective of her father, Otto Frank, the family’s lone survivor.

Writer and performer Roger Guenveur Smith was built for the stage. His presence is captivating; he’s stoic and scowly and has a face built for emoting. Audiences are drawn to him even though he’s sitting down for the full hour runtime. However, I would have been more engaged if Smith had been pacing around, or even just standing upright. Placing Otto at a desk for the duration of the show makes it hard to pay attention to the less intense moments.

In fact, in a rare turn of events, I would have preferred to read the play rather than see it performed. There are some well written and probing segments, like when Otto discusses optioning off Anne’s story for a movie and stage show. He is doing this so that his late daughter’s story will be told and immortalized, not for profit or selfish reasons, but still he knows the optics may not be ideal. He worries that the commercialization of the diary and saga are erasing his family’s Jewishness and the real life horrors of the Holocaust he saw up close. In every line, the crowd understands his grief. But with no other stage direction aside from Marc Anthony Thompson’s live score, it’s tough to pay attention for 60 minutes straight.

Jumping through time, Otto also ties Anne’s story to the hate crimes and massacres still taking place today, like the shooting at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, the Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, and antisemitic attacks in Pittsburgh and Poway. It’s a stark reminder that the fight against hate is never finished and was a fitting way to enter Martin Luther King weekend.

‘Otto Frank’ is playing through January 22. You can find tickets HERE.