Anne Frank’s diary makes a compelling stage play
The story is well-known. “The Diary of Anne Frank” is the true tale of eight Jewish people in Holland who hid in a secret annex during World War II to avoid capture by the Nazis. Yet, no matter what is known about the story beforehand, the drama of it remains powerful and compelling.
Flint Youth Theatre is producing a Wendy Kesselman adaptation of the play and the production is both beautiful and sad as it captures the hardships of living in such conditions and the hopes and dreams that each of the characters have about a future that they’ll never have.
Perhaps one of the most poignant moments in the play is when each of them says what they want to do once they get out of hiding. It is poignant because not one of them is able to realize their dreams of things that are almost mundane and normal under most circumstances. Even the one survivor, Otto Frank, wishes for something he’ll never get–the opportunity to take his family to the sea for the day.
Czerton Lim’s scenic design is also just as much a character in this show and one that helps to capture the overall theme. It is a four-level set, framed in by wall corners. There are stairs in different spots throughout and it faithfully reproduces the cramped feel of so many people living in such a small space for more than two years.
Director Jeremy Winchester makes the most of the set with staging that keeps the main eight characters on stage at all time with the two helpers occasionally coming in to visit. His casting was also stellar, with each cast-member able to faithfully reproduce the characters described in the diary.
Sam Carter plays the title role and she has fantastic energy and vocal projection. She is immediately different in character from the others in the sanctuary and it is easy to see why she is an odd one out. Not only is she the youngest of the residents, but she has a bubbly personality and is cheerful when everyone else is morose and scared. Even her fears are expressed differently from the others. Throughout the play, Carter presents an Anne who is thoughtful, energetic and who grows and matures during their time in hiding.
Brian Haggard creates an Otto Frank who holds things together and shows kindness and wisdom as he tries to keep peace with everyone in the annex. For most of the play he is highly effective at this, though his final monologue came off weaker than it should have because he swallowed his words while attempting to portray sorrow. His words about the all-important news of what happened to each person became impossible to hear.
Layla Meillier’s Margot Frank was calm, polite and the opposite in temperament to her sister, though she was always kind and loving. Lindsay Duso captured well the difficult role of Mrs. Edith Frank who is trying to keep her daughter under control while living in cramped conditions.
Mark Gmazel’s Mr. Van Daan and Kristina Lakey’s Mrs. Van Daan played well off of each other. They each managed to capture the subtext of what made them difficult to live with, especially for Anne. But they also had their poignant moments that left the audience hoping for a happy ending they would not get.
George Lieber’s Peter was appropriately shy. The scene with him in the attic with Anne was sweet and heartfelt. Gary Jones rounded out the annex residents as the older dentist who is sometimes crabby with Anne and the others, and deeply misses his wife. Mary Paige Rieffel and Bary Lehr brought breaths of fresh air from the outside when they came in with news and gifts to share.
Winchester handled well the challenge of blocking on a thrust stage where levels often blocked sight lines from one side to the other. He kept people standing and moving so that the action remained visually interesting while still feeling cramped and stifling.
“The Diary of Anne Frank” is a play that still offers hope despite the ending that it has. It also reinforces the message that we must never allow this kind of thing to happen again.