Powerful Drama at Westport Country Playhouse
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
The Westport Country Playhouse (WCP) closes its 80th season with one of its most powerful productions, “The Diary of Anne Frank.” This diary of a young girl, who perished in a concentration camp during World War II, is familiar to most teenagers through required reading in high school. Since the book was published, it has been read worldwide and there are countless dramatic recreations. The more in-depth, Pulitzer Prize winning version by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett was adapted by Wendy Kesselman and is the play produced here.
While this true story involves a particular group of Jews trying to survive the most horrible of circumstances, we’d like to believe that its message -- to make this a better world for all human beings -- crosses all cultural and religious boundaries. And so, when the sirens, the bombs and the rumbling, concentration camp trains are heard on the WCP stage, the audience is stunned because everyone witnesses what physical and psychological cruelty mankind is capable of. This chilling lesson cannot be repeated often enough. Anne’s optimistic but naive belief that “people are “basically good at heart,” was proven to be an ironic statement. However, it causes us to reflect upon the destructive nature of mankind and what, if anything, can be done about it.
Besides the extraordinary sound effects by Rusty Wandall and lighting design by Travis McHale, we have a splendid, multilevel attic designed by John Ezell, which is central to the play. It is the attic where Otto Frank, his wife and two daughters stay hidden for two years during Holland’s German occupation. Otto’s co-partner, his wife and son, plus a stray, former dentist soon join the group. The residents occupy tiny bedrooms and everyone meets in the central kitchen/living area. Miep Gies, Otto’s former secretary, periodically climbs the steep, hidden stairway to bring supplies and news from the outside.
By day, afraid to make a sound by flushing the only WC, the occupants read, whisper and tread quietly, in stocking feet on a floor directly above Otto’s former business. By night, the residents gather near the radio for the latest war news. The small attic is a microcosm of society and pretty soon, petty bickering among individuals and families break the monotony of daily life. Anne writes her diary and manages to experience a full life while confined to this small world.
This highly emotional play is brought to life by the entire, spellbinding cast under Gerand Freedman’s direction. Molly Ephraim plays the perky and precocious Anne Frank. She brightens the dismal atmosphere with outspoken chatter and amusing observations to the point of being a pest. Mitch Greenberg plays her dignified, intelligent, peace-making father, Otto.
Bring the whole family to see this worthwhile production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” and be sure to see the student sculpture of the attic refuge in the playhouse lobby.
Plays through Oct. 30. Phone: 203-227-4177
This review appears in On Connecticut Theatre - October/ 2010