October 25, 2002

 

The Diary of Anne Frank

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

(special to the Charlotte Observer)

The Diary of Anne Frank often provides the nascent introduction of the Holocaust to children. As such, the Davidson College Theatre Department’s production provides a worthy curriculum item. Playwright Wendy Kesselman’s 1997 adaptation of this play has been reworked to appeal to a generation of young people removed from the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust.

Otto Frank, his wife Edith, and daughters Margot and Anne were Jews who fled Germany in 1933 when Hitler became Chancellor. The play opens in June 1942, the day the Frank family sought refuge in an office building annex in Amsterdam. They were joined by Putti, Petronella and Peter Van Daan, and a dentist named Mr. Dussel, until they were discovered on August 4, 1944. The eight were dependent upon food and supplies provided by Gentile businessman Mr. Kraler, and his secretary Miep.

Beth Gardner plays Anne Frank as an effervescent adolescent. Anne initially views their move to the annex as a great adventure, and her peppy nature never succumbs to the trials of being in hiding. The play explores Anne’s burgeoning adolescence, her frustration with her "perfect" sister, and her curiosity about boys.

The horror of the Holocaust re-enters the play in a series of video projections, and occasional sounds beneath the annex. The play also emphasizes the difficulty of people living atop one another with little privacy or food. Imagine a 13 year old, trying to work through adolescent issues, with her mom in her face every day for two years.

Joe Gardner designed a sprawling set with a living space larger than I imagined, but tiny for eight people, especially by today’s standards. The practical, wooden decor was nicely contrasted by colorful crocheted blankets on the beds. Director Sharon Green achieved an authentic 1940s look, from Petronella’s prized fur coat, to the red high-heeled pumps that Anne treasures.

The acoustics at the stunning new Duke Family Performance Hall have yet to be mastered. The videos segments were so loud that the actors seemed too quiet. As a result, the screens were most successful during Otto Frank’s closing monologue, when black and white photographs of Anne, her sister Margot, and her mother Edith were broadcast to a silent theatre. They were a poignant reminder that these people were real, and that 1944 was not that long ago.

Lynn Trenning, October 25, 2002

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