Diary of Anne Frank
Anne Frank wrote in her diary, “I want to go on living even after my death.” This is certainly a remarkable thought written in Holland by a thirteen year old girl somewhere between July 6, 1942 and August 4, 1944, the years that she spent in hiding in a Secret Annex from the Nazis with her family and others. Tragically, this extraordinary child did not survive the Holocaust and could never have imagined that her story, the details of which she recorded with such joy in her diary, would resonate with passion and fervor in a book, a film and countless stage productions all over the world.
The Westport Country Playhouse has mounted a richly textured production of The Diary of Anne Frank that will play through October 30th. Gerald Freedman, well-known director, has used the Wendy Kesselman Adaptation of the original written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett that won the 1956 Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize. Ms. Kesselman’s more psychological version, which emphasizes the interpersonal conflicts between Anne and her mother and the loving relationship between Anne and 16 year old Peter Van Daan, earned a 1997 Tony nomination.
The fine cast costumed by Willa Kim projects the fears, the longings and hopes that permeate their character’s lives. The fact that they are playing real people who experienced the horrors of being forced from their homes and businesses just because they were Jewish makes this all the more powerful. On a complex three-level set, a warren of attic rooms designed by John Ezell, lit darkly by Travis McHale, we meet the Frank family on the day they have fled to temporary safety above Otto Frank’s offices. Mitch Greenberg brings a sense of calm and quiet authority to the role of this father who is trying to save his family and that of his partner’s, Mr. Van Daan, played well by Steve Vinovich. Otto’s secretary Miep Gies, the very pretty Monica West, was their only contact to the world. She and Mr. Kraler (Allen McCullough) provided food and supplies of all kinds to the eight stowaways. Ms. Gies, who was honored, but did not consider herself a hero, died this year at the age of 100!
Felicity Jones is intense as Otto Frank’s high strung wife, Edith, who seems to know this will end badly, but tries to protect her two girls: good 15 year old Margot played by Lauren Culpepper and exuberant Anne, who in the beginning can’t stop chattering optimistically. Molly Ephriam, a Princeton graduate, brings a fresh perky quality to this enormous role. She shows the changes that occur in Anne’s life, both physically and mentally, as she not only grows out of her shoes but becomes more sensitive to those around her. Mimi Lieber is outstanding as Mrs. Van Daan, who clings to her fur coat, a gift from her father. Ari Brand as Peter, her son, is convincing as he emerges from his shy shell, but Lou Liberatore’s Mr. Dussel, a dentist who finds refuge with them, should be a little mousier.
As they listen to the Normandy Invasion on the radio, all hope that they will be saved. Ironically, they were discovered only days before the end of the war and were on the last transport to leave Holland for the camps and ultimate death. Otto Frank was the only one to survive. Diary of Anne Frank: always a reminder of the fragility of life.
This review originally aired on WMNR Fine Arts radio.