Review of The Diary of Anne Frank
By Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
Adapted by Wendy Kesselman
Based on Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
Directed by Diane Bailey
For tickets / schedule :
Raven Performing Arts Center
RUN: April 7-23, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars
(April 8, 2017)
When I was a teenager, my mother insisted that I watch the 1959 film adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank, and its harsh insight into an era filled with horror yet brimming with humanity and love is a moment I will never forget. This play, revised by Wendy Kesselman, has not lost its power and is staged with a strong cast and dramatic set design by Michael Mingoia at Raven Players.
Forced to go into hiding to avoid being sent on transports to their deaths, the Frank and Van Daan families find themselves together in a tiny set of rooms. Personalities clash, aggravated by claustrophobic conditions, nerves on edge, starvation, and being absolutely silent to avoid detection during the day. Tom Luekens’ sound design is masterful, setting the feel of Amsterdam with rippling water and gulls, snippets of historical radio broadcasts, ominous creaking, and terrifying Gestapo sirens. As a member of the audience, I found myself straining to hear voices from downstairs along with the actors, jumping at every sound.
Mingoia’s set design winds its way up and down multiple levels with a wistful background of painted handwriting from Anne’s journal, mixed with watercolor style paintings based on photographs from her life. Diane Bailey’s direction takes advantage of the space, showing the families at everyday tasks, quietly going to bed, or huddled staring into the sky as an air raid warning screeches across the auditorium. Anne’s story gracefully transitions between diary entries as soliloquies and activity in real time with the inhabitants. The cast embraces their roles and works well as an ensemble, such as the intense confrontation when Mr. Van Daan (Thomas Gibson) is caught stealing bread by an irate Edith Frank (Saskia Baur) who threatens to evict them to the mercies of the Nazis, and family members quickly take sides until reason prevails.
Supporting the bulk of dialogue is the talented young actress Claire Lentz as Anne Frank, whose beautiful smile lights up the stage with joy and laughter, while equally able to feel the suffering of a character with recurring nightmares who struggles with a mother who refuses to accept her. Unfortunately, her voice does not carry well in the large theater, a technique that will improve with time and practice. Her brooding beau, Peter, is portrayed by Ari Vozaitis, who mopes about until Anne draws out his cheerful side just in time for them to be dragged off by the Nazis. Mr. Dussel (Robert Bauer) brings an exhausted, broken realism to his stories of occupied Amsterdam, and an amusing touch with a fussy reaction to Peter’s cat. Dawn Gibson’s Miep Gies is kindness personified, constantly insisting she is not a hero, while proving herself wrong with selfless acts. The idealized father of Anne’s diary, Gregory Skopp’s Otto Frank is the quiet, steady presence that keeps the family going. His final scene is heart wrenching as he relives the last days of each character, trembling when he tells of Anne’s death so close to liberation.
This play is timely, warning of the danger when specific ethnic groups are targeted and dehumanized. Thanks to underwriting by Lauren, Susan, and Hawlyn, teen attendance to this play is free during the entire run. Raven Players’ The Diary of Anne Frank is vibrant and challenging, remaining relevant to a modern audience, with a beautiful set and forceful ensemble.