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Mercy Roberts, 16, brings Anne Frank to life at Stageworks

Bill DeYoung

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Mercy Roberts, 16, has the title role in Stageworks Theatre's "The Diary of Anne Frank." Photo: Stageworks.

Playing the title role in The Diary of Anne Frank at Stageworks, Mercy Roberts is riding an emotional roller coaster.

“When we had the first read-through and did all the table work, I ended the night sobbing my eyes out,” says the 16-year-old Tampa-based actress. “It is such a powerful story.”

Based on the true story of a Dutch teenager who hid from the Nazis, with her entire family, The Diary of Anne Frank is a both a sobering, first-hand account of one of civilization’s lowest ebbs, and a cautionary tale.

In some ways, it’s also a ray of sunshine.

The play has been a staple in the American theater system since 1955, when Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett first adapted the diary – left behind after Anne  and her family had been discovered and taken from their attic hiding place.

She’d received the diary as a gift on her 13th birthday. “I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone,” Anne wrote on that first day, “and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.”

A junior at Berkeley Preparatory School, Mercy has been acting (and singing) onstage since she was 9. The Berkeley theater program keeps her busy, performing in lots and lots of plays.

In 2019, she made her professional debut as Young Allison in Fun Home at American Stage. That acclaimed production was directed by Stageworks’ Karla Hartley, who’s also directing The Diary of Anne Frank.

“I think Mercy is a remarkable young actor,” enthuses Hartley. “She has a sense of empathy which extends to all the characters she does. I didn’t audition anybody else – I knew that Mercy was going to be awesome. I don’t usually do that.”

Mercy, Hartley adds, “handled the material very well. It could be overwhelming, the weight of the responsibility of bringing Anne Frank to life, but she’s handing it really well. I’m super-proud of her.”

Mercy did the reading and dramaturgy work needed to grasp the weight and significance of The Diary of Anne Frank, and ultimately found her way into the role.

“I think what’s so meaningful about her story is that it’s so easy to connect to Anne,” Mercy says. “She’s just this innocent young girl who has the same thoughts that other high school girls do. She thinks about boys, and she gets mad at her mom and her dad, but she loves them in the end. And she fights with her sister.

“She misses her friends, she’s curious about her body and all these things that really, truly everyone else experiences.”

Mercy Roberts is thinking about college, and what she’d like to do with her life – she’s very interested in psychology, and might consider pursuing a law degree.

Theater, she knows, will always play a large role in her life. “It’s not going away any time soon,” she says. “You can do multiple things.”

The Diary of Anne Frank runs Feb. 4-20. Tickets are available here.

The story has taken hold – as it’s meant to do – of its lead actress. “After rehearsal, every single night, I roll down the windows on the highway and blast some happy music,” Mercy explains. “And try to lighten my head a little bit.”

Mercy Roberts as Alison, with David Mann as Bruce Bechdel, in a scene from 2019’s “Fun Home” at American Stage. Photo by Beth Reynolds.

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

1 Comment

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    J.Patterson

    February 5, 2022at3:45 pm

    This young actress is phenomenal in the role. To have the emotional weight of one of the most horrific events of all time on her to portray is unbelievable! What a powerful performance she gives us. We will see Mercy Roberts’ name in lights.

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