Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.
Take Malala Yousafzai who was already making waves at age 11 in her native Pakistan, speaking out against the Taliban for limiting education for females. By 15, she had been shot in the head while coming home from her school, undergone numerous medical procedures and survived without brain damage. Yousafzai went on to write an autobiography, address the United Nations, and became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize – all before she turned 17.
Anne Frank did not have the chance to make public speeches about her life, nor did she receive a Nobel Prize. She dreamed of becoming a journalist or a writer, and luckily for the world, young Anne got a head start on her dream while living under conditions most of us cannot fathom. But her famous diary, first published in 1947 just three years after her death of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen death camp, has become a modern literary classic and the drama adapted by the married screenwriting team Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett has been seen the world over on stage and through filmed adaptations.
The Diary of Anne Frank is now back onstage in a lovingly executed and touching production at Compass Rose Theater in Annapolis. Director Steve Tobin’s gentle touch, swift pacing and smooth transitions help make the play’s two acts fly by. The intimacy of the Compass Rose performance space is a perfect setting for a play in which the inhabitants of the annex in Amsterdam never see the outside world again until they are hauled away to their ultimate fates.
In addition to the detailed direction and intimate staging, Tobin’s masterful casting of the pivotal roles of Anne and Otto Frank, as well as the skilled ensemble, are all the more reason to make the trip to Annapolis to see this classic.
The Anne we know from the stage adaptation of her diary is precocious, mercurial, flirty, impetuous, witty, and creative – quite a tall order for a young actress to embody in the course of a two hour play. I have seen Anne played by a 20-something actress in the past, but those performances always seemed to be playing at expressing all of those qualities. This was not the case at Compass Rose where Anne is brought to life by 14 year-old Mia Goodman in a brilliant performance. She captures the complexities of the young diarist with nuance and natural grace. Essentially the same age as her character, Goodman makes playing Anne look easy – from her impulsive outbursts, flights of fancy, and those moments when the old soul within speaks about life, dreams and what she believes will come.
As her father Otto, Steve Lebens gives a multi-layered performance as the family leader of the Franks clan. Lebens effortlessly displays Otto’s amiability, infinite patience, and strong faith in the scenes in the annex. The chemistry with his family, especially in the strong relationship with Anne, are crystal clear. During the prologue and epilogue of the play, Lebens is also able to show the deep wounds of a man who has lost his entire family and has little to hold on to, save for his daughter’s journals of a happier yet harrowing time.
Alicia Sweeney gives a quiet, refined performance as the less gregarious Mrs. Frank, while Jenny Donovan, as Anne’s older sister Margot, is a natural at playing the intelligent and dutiful older daughter.
The four members of the Frank family are joined in hiding by the three members of the Van Daan family – plus one, if you count Mouschi, the unseen cat that causes problems for one and all. Bryant Centofanti blusters appropriately as Mr. Van Daan. His flirtatious haus-frau wife Petronella is played with comic elan by Jill Kyle-Keith. Whether flirting with Otto, sparring with Anne, or protecting the tarnished honor of her food-obsessed husband, Kyle-Keith makes the most of her role. It should also be noted: Ms. Kyle-Keith also has a personal connection to the Holocaust: her grandparents Abraham and Gertrude Kaiser were German Jews who died during the war. A writer for DC Theatre Scene, you can read more about Jill’s story here.
As Peter Van Daan, Eli Pendry evokes the growing teenager who is both angry and awkward, sullen and sensitive and more at war with his parents than the Nazis outside. Pendry’s scenes with Goodman as Anne are very strong, each actor capturing the confusion and discovery of the opposite sex in a chaste and poignant way.
Rachael Murray appears as Miep, the protector of the hiding place, and veteran actor Edd Miller rounds out the cast as the final inhabitant of the annex, Dussel the lonely dentist who is at odds with Anne and just about everyone else in the cramped quarters.
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK
March 18 – April 17, 2016
Compass Rose Theater
49 Spa Road
Annapolis MD 21041
2 hours with 1 intermission
The actors work together nicely to evoke the oppressive conditions in the attic hideaway. Alex Brady’s lighting design does wonders in the small space to mark the passage of time and assist the cast in their seamless transitions from one scene to another.
When I left the performance at Compass Rose, during my drive back home, I was struck by what Anne Franks’ words says to us now more than 70 years after her untimely death. One of the most famous teenaged writers in all of literature, young Anne found hope in the face of oppression and destruction. The heated rhetoric of politicians, more terrorist attacks in a major city – these are just pings on the radar screen compared to what Anne faced in those dark days in hiding and in the concentration camp. Anne Frank’s words come soaring to mind: “It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”
There is a fine line in making a figure like Anne Frank into a full-blooded character versus a symbol for what she embodies. But Goodrich and Hackett, director Steve Tobin and the talented young actress Mia Goodman have gone a long way to straddle that line.
[Jill Kyle-Keith is a writer for DC Theatre Scene. It did not affect this review.]
The Diary of Anne Frank by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett . Director: Steve Tobin . Featuring Mia Goodman, Steve Lebens, Rachel Murray, Jill Kyle-Keith, Bryant Centofanti, Eli Pendry, Alicia Sweeney, Jenny Donovan, and Edd Miller . Lighting design: Alex Brady . Costume design: Beth Terranova . Props: Joann Gidos, Mike Gidos . Stage manager: Justine Cerruto . Produced by Compass Rose Theater . Reviewed by Jeff Walker