Directed by Terry Martin
Scene Design by Clare DeVries
Costume Design by Michael A. Robinson
Lighting Design by Susan A. White
Props Design by Georgana Jinks
Sound Design by Curtis Craig & Scott Guenther
Anne Frank-----------Molly Franco
Otto Frank-----------Stan Graner
Edith Frank----------Emily Scott Banks
Margot Frank---------Jessica Renee Russell
Meip Giles-----------Dana Schultes
Peter Van Daan-------Travis Tope
Mr. Kraler-----------Andrew Kasten
Mrs. Van Daan--------Lucia Welch
Mr. Van Daan---------Paul Taylor
Mr. Dussell----------Ted Wold
Soldier--------------Jacob Aaron Cullum
Reviewed Performance 1/9/2012
Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
In October of 1997 Natalie Portman made her Broadway debut starring in the revival of The Diary of Anne Frank along with Linda Lavin and George Hearn, and directed by James Lapine. Wendy Kesselman adapted the stage script by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, originally presented in the mid-1950's. Their script was based on the 1947 publishing phenomenon Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, with a forward by Eleanor Roosevelt no less. The book, eventually translated into 56 languages, and the original play, riveted Americans with its revealing and personal account of the Holocaust, presenting in this one family's story a glimpse of an event so horrendous as to be almost incomprehensible.
Goodrich and Hackett aimed their script at an audience only ten years away from the depicted events. As Vincent Canby said in his 1997 review, "Israel was a new state, aged seven, (and) Elie Wiesel's Night would not be published in English for another five years". Ms. Kesselman on the other hand had access to the 1995 definitive edition of the diary and other documents that the earlier writers did not. She also restored the "Jewishness" of the story and Anne's writings about her burgeoning sexuality that had been toned down in the `50s to make the play more palatable to a wider audience. Finding the upbeat, optimistic attitude of the original script not consistent with the source, she retained the more somber and realistic tone of the book.
As we in the audience watched the actors enter the attic onstage at WaterTower Theatre, I felt pretty certain that the lump in my throat was not the only one. In the back of my mind was the knowledge that these actors were portraying real people who suffered and died a terrible death. And yet, even with this knowledge, I found myself caught up in their story, hoping that they would be rescued, straining with them for every bit of optimistic news and event.
For the actors the challenge was not to play the ending from the beginning, something especially hard to do with such a well-known story. It was to their credit that for the most part they succeeded. Of course their character's dread of the possible tragedy was hanging over their heads constantly but the hope for rescue and freedom was the driving force.
As Anne, Molly Franco made a nice transition from the rather giddy thirteen year old "Miss Quack Quack" to the more mature Anne at the end of the play. She looked the role and was successful in playing Anne's faults as well as her virtues. Her more effective moments came in the second act as the character approached the age of the actress. Her change in attitude toward Peter from play fellow to romantic interest was well done and believable. The play was episodic by necessity but Miss Franco and the other actors managed to find a through- line for their characters and stick to it.
Stan Graner was Anne's father, Otto Frank, and his role, as written, was a really rather one-dimensional one of solidity, goodness and stability. We never got a glimpse into his darker areas of despair or doubt until the end of the play in the epilogue. Mr. Graner did a fine job with the words he was given and played the affectionate husband and father to good effect. That he was the tallest on the stage was a visual plus in helping make him the authority figure. His last moments alone on stage were heart-felt and touching. The final monologue of the play, which related the fates of the other characters, was delivered by Mr. Graner with restraint and deep emotion.
In the role of Anne's mother Edith, Emily Scott Banks turned in another of her solid and nuanced performances. She created a wide range of character traits for Mrs. Frank, from fear and strength to jealousy and exasperation. Her love for her family and her effort to hold the situation together was a strong arc throughout her performance.
Peter Van Daan was ably played by Travis Tope, nicely growing into young adulthood before our eyes. His transitions from the shy, withdrawn teen in the first scenes to the more complex and interesting young man in the final scenes were effective. His growing affection for Anne was believable and gently played. I kept thinking as I watched the show how difficult the situation must have been for all three teens. Adolescence is hard enough without the added stress of very little privacy and constantly being in real danger.
Paul Taylor and Lucia Welch as Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan were a believable couple caught up in a terrible situation. Ms. Welch's vanity and pretensions and Mr. Taylor's distraction and frustrations as the Van Daans were displayed with restraint until the moments when the outbursts gave the show its needed minor climaxes on the way to the ultimate ending. Both actors gave solid, believable performances.
In what could be a throw-away role as Margot Frank, Jessica Renee Russell gave a riveting performance as the complex and withdrawn young woman. Ms. Russell has been seen recently on local stages, and her performance in The Diary of Anne Frank showed us why this young actress has continued to get work.
Ted Wold entered the action later than the other characters in the role of Mr. Dussel, the dentist. His was a detailed and eminently watchable performance that solidly impressed, as did Dana Schultes as Miep Gies in another role that might have been easily overlooked in the hands of a less skilled actress.
Andrew Kasten played Mr. Kraler. Alvin Combs was a Nazi officer, with Jacob Aaron Cullum as a Nazi soldier and Wes Cantrell as a "man." All of these gentlemen gave well crafted and believable characterizations that helped to solidify the over-all effect of the show.
This was another beautifully produced show by WaterTower Theatre. The set by Clare Floyd DeVries was stark and simple with strong outlines of the attic space that effectively moved into silhouette at various moments in the action. The illusionistic buildings to the side and the tops of the windows in the warehouse below helped establish the locale. The cramped quarters were displayed without losing the strong artistic sense of the design although perhaps a little more grit and grime would have added to the atmosphere. Costumes by Michael A. Robinson worked well for the period and told who the characters were, not an easy job with the layerings and many on and off stage changes. My only quibble was with the unflattering sleeves on Mrs. Van Daan's suit jacket.
Lighting by Susan A. White was helpful in directing the audience's eye to the appropriate stage areas. With the whole cast on stage most of the time, this was essential to following the action. Especially effective was the epilogue lighting which gave a sense of decay and distress that helped underline the mood of Mr. Frank's final monologue. A more subtle light on Anne's diary in the last moment would have been more effective.
The sound design by Curtis Craig and Scott Guenther was almost another character in itself, providing not only the broadcasts the families listened to so eagerly, but also the noises of the outside world from which they were removed. The period props by Georgana Jinks helped established the time frame.
Terry Martin's direction was capable, moving the many characters in the space to good effect. His placement of the actors provided focus where it needed to be although I wished they hadn't been trapped behind the center table so often. The upper attic space seemed under-used until the second act. With that many people crowded into such a small space, I wondered why someone wasn't sleeping upstairs.
The show was solid and serviceable. The terrible stress of the situation brought out the frailties of these normally very affable people. Imagine being trapped for twenty-five months in a small space with seven other people, having to be absolutely quiet during the day and always living with the fear of discovery. The actors took their moments, and the audience was caught up in the plot, but there were other moments such as the end of the Chanukah scene before the thief was discovered or the entrance of the soldiers that didn't quite work. Several scene endings needed just another beat before moving on to put the full emotional impact where it needed to be. I ultimately wanted to be more moved and emotionally involved than I was.
The first moment of the show was extraordinarily affecting as the characters came in and looked around and realized this would be their home for the foreseeable future. The looks on their faces and their body language spoke volumes as the audience took in the yellow Star of David on their clothes and the magnitude of their situation unfolded. Each speaking of what they missed most or what they would do when they were free again and the traditional lighting of the candles were heart wrenching and beautifully played moments. The ending, with the arrival of the soldiers was terrifying as the inevitable unfolded.
The show was slick and professional, moving at times and emotionally involving most of the evening and WaterTower Theatre should be commended for mounting a strong and visually striking production. In Ms. Kesselman's adaptation, while Anne's diary may not be the symbol of hope in the middle of this horror that it was in the original script, it was a testament that bore witness. And it did it most effectively.
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK
Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison, TX 75001
Runs through January 29th
Wednesdays & Thursdays: 7:30pm
Saturdays: 8:00pm, and January 28th only at 2:00 pm
Atmos Energy Student Matinee Performances January 17th and 24th at 10:00 am
Single Tickets: $20.00 - $40.00, depending on the day.
For tix go to www.watertowertheatre.org or 972-450-6232 or in person at Water Tower Theatre Box Office (Tuesday-Friday 12pm to 6 pm)