Wedged in the oh-so-narrow crevice between obnoxious schlock and sublimity lies The Diary of Anne Frankenstein, an at times horrific piecemeal of 50’s horror tropes, Nazi Germany, and drag dazzle presented by Theatre A L’Orange. It’s also sharply staged, cunningly written, and frequently disturbing in its hilariousness. Set in the secret laboratory of a German castle (designed to a B-Movie T by Chesley Allen) in 1945, Anne weaves an unsettling tale of a botched Nazi experiment, wherein Dr. Frankenstein’s buxom Aryan superwoman Anne is born with… well… a little something extra. Banished to the castle’s attic for years with only a sassy talking diary to keep her company, Anne’s chances at freedom and love increase when her long lost creator returns to his old lab, with the reanimated head of Adolph Hitler in tow. After two foppish Americans show up looking for lodging, the whole affair spins into kitschy, chaotic madness of the best kind.
As mentioned above, Anne might have ended up as a mere pastiche of plot elements from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Frankenstein, and, yes, The Diary of Anne Frank – but playwright Ilya Sapiroe’s clever script fuses the spirits of these various sources (and genres) in a quite agreeable way. The device that houses Hilter’s reanimated head, for instance, gives an appropriately retro-horror vibe, and simultaneously renders the Fuehrer as a gibbering idiot. Another particularly nice convention, well handled by the game director Elizabeth Elkins, is the personification of Anne’s diary, as portrayed by the deliciously laconic Lavinia Co-op. The vampy Co-op wears an oversized open book headdress, pops in like the Cheshire Cat, and cajoles Anne into compromising situations. It is also worth noting that there are several amusing musical numbers by Kevin Cummines.
The play’s overall success obviously owes much to Mimi Imfurst, the celebrated drag queen who plays the childlike, but occasionally baritone Anne. The way that Imfurst bounces giddily after graphically disemboweling a victim elicits a strange blend of awkward sympathy and humorous disconnect. At times, the audience is meant to root for Anne, yet at other times we are meant to fear her. Like all the other mash-ups provided by Sapiroe’s farce, Imfurst gregariously milks this imbalance to hysterical effect.
Joseph Beuerlein, Geoffrey Borman, Ryan Feyk, Jessica Caplan, and Eric Jaeger round out the willing cast, with Feyk’s decapitated goofball Hitler and Borman’s gangly terror Fritz leaving the most lasting impressions. As an ensemble, the cast in general excels at whatever singing, role swapping, and shenanigans are required. It’s always nice to see a cast have a good time with material, and this makes a bizarre, unquantifiable show like Anne that much easier to enjoy.
As a final note, I want to address the title, The Diary of Anne Frankenstein, specifically. It is a title obviously constructed for maximum offense and one that hopes to draw a crowd based on morbid curiosity alone. There are those who will be supportive of this audacious move and those who will be flabbergasted. On two occasions I avoided referring to the show by name, for fear of being dragged into some unfortunate discussion of appropriateness with someone from the latter camp. That said: mission accomplished Mr. Sapiroe. You both piqued my interest and made me embarrassed to say why.