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A CurtainUp Review
The Diary of Anne Frank

Will I ever be able to write well? I want to so much. I want to go on living even after my death. --- Anne Frank

Diary of Anne Frank
(Left to right) Dana Powers Acheson as Margot Frank and Isabel Keating as Edith Frank
A Broadway revival in 1997 of The Diary of Anne Frank was notable for the new adaptation by Wendy Kesselman of the original script by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. Although it never seemed to be in doubt, a more pronounced Jewish identity was presumably placed in evidence to delineate characters whose persecution was previously seen in a more universal light. However, for all the diary's reinstated ethnicity and previously deleted passages that came to light in 1995, including Anne's unconvincing sexual fantasizing, the play remains respectful to its source. There is, however, in this well-meaning production a somewhat dullish compliancy to the text and the action as directed by Carolyn Cantor.

While it is almost impossible not to be affected by the journals of a Jewish girl coming of age during the time she, her family, and many other Jews hid from the Nazis in Amsterdam, this new version takes a less sentimental approach to the familiar story. Yet, the course of this authenticated drama of a young Jewish girl's ordeal during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam will always remain harrowing. In keeping with the play's message, director Cantor has considered each of the assorted crises and moods in an attentive, if not especially energizing, manner. Nevertheless, she makes sure our hearts and minds are drawn away from trifles and toward these trusting souls who waited patiently for deliverance from evil for more than two years.

Whether we shiver along with the eight Jews in hiding as the threat of discovery is near or rejoice with them at the modest, yet uplifting, Chanukah service, each scene becomes, as it should, a commemorative to the faith and endurance of each one of these unforgettable people. The pivotal role of Anne has been entrusted to Shana Dowdeswell, a gifted actress with modest professional credits currently in her junior year at Professional Performing Arts High. Dowdeswell can certainly be praised for embodying this girl for all seasons with the obligatory spunky behavior we have come to expect. Notwithstanding the essential ebullience of Anne, Dowdeswell courageously exercises many of the teenager's more charmingly unnerving qualities, the impetuousness, irritating rebelliousness, and prankish behavior of this now-immortalized adolescent who could find inspiration in despair.

Perhaps the breadth of set designer David Korins' warehouse annex and attic hideout could be faulted for not quite providing a more cramped, intimate environment. A more compressed setting might have brought the stress and anxieties of this extended family right into our own rather safe space. The rows of artificial tulips that fill the floor of the stage below the set are an unsettlingly surreal image. The lighting designer Kevin Adams has found the most effective ways to change and enhance the mood of a scene.

Peter Kybart gives a sensitive performance as Mr. Frank, a man whose paternal perceptiveness is underscored with a quietly heroic nature. Isabel Keating, whom we all remember for her lauded role as Judy Garland in The Boy from Oz, offers restrained affection in the role of Mrs. Frank. As the troublesome Van Daans, Nancy Robinette has overt fun with the wife's excessive sensuality while David Wohl roots the husband's covert behavior in fear. As Margot, Annie's quiet older sister, Dana Powers Acheson holds her own nicely and manages not to get completely lost in the shuffle of temperaments and egos. The ingratiating tentativeness of Michael Stahl-David performance was just right for the role of Peter Van Daan, the shy friend cum beau who discovers, along with Anne, that buttinsky parents need not be a barrier to a budding romance. A Chicago-based actor, the comely Stahl-David is making an impressive East Coast debut. Versatile singer/actor Michael Rupert, recent Tony award-winner for Sweet Charity, plays the role of Mr. Dussel, the crotchety old dentist, exactly that way. And Christa Scott-Reed and Jeff Talbott are more than merely supportive as the friends downstairs.

Although director Cantor's Off-Broadway (Orange Flower Water, Stone Cold Dead Serious) and regional credits (The King Stag at Williamstown) indicate her affinity for the off-beat, her direction of The Diary… appears to meander around the conventional. The staging goes seriously awry at the end of the play as three unconvincing actors dressed up as Nazis, their guns drawn, storm the "secret annex" and round up the residents. This unnecessary, awkward and phony-looking scene, although it is evidently prescribed in the new version, seriously cripples the chilling and heart-breaking effect of the play's original coda.

Something not to be missed is the extraordinary photographic exhibit located on the mezzanine level of the theater: Anne Frank: A Private Photo Album, features 70 black-and-white amateur photographs taken by Otto Frank, which poignantly depict the life and times of his daughters Anne and Margot before the Frank family went into hiding during the Holocaust. What with our immediate concerns about our government's justification for concentration camps (politely called detention centers), their defense of the use of inhumane interrogation and torture, the blatant bigotry now being directed towards all Muslims, and the other hate-instigated biases toward social groups being nurtured by right wing Christian fundamentalists, we must be more attentive than ever to the informed realism that propels this dramatic document, even as it bears witness to the eternal and essential goodness of the human race.

To read a review of the Broadway production of this adaptation go here
The Diary of Anne Frank
By Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett; adapted by Wendy Kesselman
Directed by Carolyn Cantor
Cast: (in order of appearance Shana Dowdeswell (Anne Frank),Peter Kybart (Otto Frank), Isabel Keating (Edith Frank.),Dana Powers Acheson (Margot Frank),Christa Scott-Reed (Miep Gies.),Michael Stahl-David (Peter Van Faan),Jeff Talbott (Mr. Kraler.),Nancy Robinette (Mrs. Van Daan), David Wohl (Mr. Van Daan),Michael Rupert (Mr. Van Daan), Peter Bretz (First man), Steve Brady (Second man), Seamus Mulcahy* (Third man )
Set Designer: David Korins
Lighting Designer: Kevin Adams
Costume Designer: Ilona Somogyi
Sound Designer: Randy Hansen
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes (including one intermission)
Paper Mill Box Office on Brookside Drive, Millburn (973) 376 – 4343
Web site: www.papermill.org
1/18/06 to 2/26/06; opening 1/22/06
Wednesdays at 7:30 PM, Thursdays at 2:00Pm & 7:00PM, Fridays at 8:00PM, Saturdays at 2:00Pm & 8:00PM and Sundays at 2:00PM & 7:30PM.
Tickets: $68 to $19. Student rush tickets are $16 and available day of performance in person with current ID.
Reviewed by Simon Saltzman based on January 22nd performance
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©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
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