It is a daunting challenge to perform as Anne Frank. Not only is she an historical figure whose face is known worldwide, but she is also one who went through puberty during the events that made her famous. Anne received her diary for her thirteenth birthday and died almost three years later at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Actors have to portray tremendous emotional growth as Anne matures.
Carolyn Faye Kramer rises to the challenge. Early on, her Anne bounces off the walls with youthful energy, figuratively stepping on toes left and right. (In one of very few technical flaws, Kramer is just too quick for the spotlight to keep up as she dashes around the set.) As she matures, Kramer focuses that energy into Anne’s relationships and introspection.
Wendy Kesselman’s adaption of The Diary of Anne Frank is unique, as it features passages famously redacted by Otto Frank from the original published manuscript of Anne’s diary. Specifically, Anne’s sexual attraction to women and her tumultuous relationship with her mother. While Anne’s sexuality is still mostly focused on Peter van Daan, Kramer and Brigid Cleary (Edith Frank) are heart-wrenching as they depict the tension between mother and daughter in great detail. It is fascinating to watch the dynamics at play when Anne’s sister Margot (Dani Stroller) intervenes. The sheer talent involved, from Kesselman’s writing to Derek Goldman’s direction to three superb actors, gives a part of Anne’s story previously hidden from history its just attention.
In a cast with nary a weak link, Eric Hissom’s Mr. van Daan stands out as a personal favorite. His harsh humor could easily come across as forced or exaggerated, but Hissom’s presence in the moment and fine awareness of the degrees to which Mr. van Daan is himself performing keeps the character firmly believable. Goldman’s direction and Susan Rome’s chemistry with Hissom as Mrs. van Daan are no doubt to be thanked as well for the achievement.
Misha Kachman’s scenic design is spectacular, incorporating three rooms on two floors, all furnished with well-chosen set dressing. The space feels lived-in and authentic, even as it incorporates invisible walls and a floating balcony. Its one weakness is that it appears larger than the actual annex in which Anne lived. In a show that does so well to depict their hardship, it is an unfortunate misstep to give the Franks, van Daans, and Mr. Dussel any additional luxury. (A virtual tour of the Secret Annex, something I highly recommend to anyone who sees this show, is available here: http://www.annefrank.org/en/Subsites/Home/)
The costume design, by David Burdick, is strong as well. When Anne and Peter tear off the stars of David they had been forced to wear, the long thread trailing behind the stars as they are thrown to the furnace serves as satisfying textile gore. Additionally, when Mrs. van Daan is stripped of her heavy fur coat, the small, almost childlike outfit beneath drives home the loss with its stark contrast.
To round out the few flaws in the production, the corner thrust presents two issues. First, it gives Goldman an excuse to let actors occasionally face directly up-stage. Second, a few instances of Matthew M. Nielson’s sound design boomed from a speaker right behind the middle of the audience. Between watching an actor’s back and recoiling from a couple of painful sound cues, I cannot recommend the rear of house center.
The Diary of Anne Frank
closes October 23, 2016
Details and tickets
The production elements are allowed to go all out as the play enters its tragic epilogue. The lighting changes drastically and a haze effect absorbs the set as Paul Morella’s Otto Frank takes the stage. Before the epilogue, Morella does little to suggest the stress that surely hides behind Otto’s well-kept outward positivity and manners. With no one left to share the stage with, Morella finally reveals the depth of Otto’s suffering. Alone he is moving, but the lights and special effects contribute well to the harsh shift. In a climax of reverence for the subject, projection, designed by Kelly Colburn and Mark Costello, is used to scrawl Anne Frank’s words in her own hand-writing across the set.
It is a challenge to perform as Anne Frank. It is an even greater undertaking to tell the full story, portraying each figure with both respect and honesty. Goldman and the Olney Theatre Center can be proud of their contribution to this ever vital story.
The Diary of Anne Frank. Directed by Derek Goldman. Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. Adapted by Wendy Kesselman. Performed by Alex Alferov, Edward Christian, Brigid Cleary, Eric Hissom, Carolyn Faye Kramer, Jesse Milliner, Paul Morella, Susan Rome, Michael Russotto, Kimberly Schraf, Dani Stoller, and Chris Stinson. Scenic design by Misha Kachman. Costume design by David Burdick. Lighting design by Zach Blane. Sound design by Matthew M. Nielson. Projection design by Kelly Colburn and Mark Costello. Production stage managed by Trevor A. Riley and Ben Walsh. Produced by Olney Theatre Center.