SALT LAKE CITY — The story of Anne Frank is one that has fascinated and haunted readers for generations. The diary of the thirteen-year-old girl locked in an annex for more than two years in order to escape the Nazis during the Holocaust is a powerful reminder of the horrors of war. Yet, as the Pioneer Theatre Company proved in its production of The Diary of Anne Frank, adapted by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, and Wendy Kesselman, this is a story not only about war but a story about people; people in hiding, people with flaws, people in the Secret Annex, people who can shine despite their bleak surroundings.
The play begins as the Frank family moves into their hiding place, the Annex. The Pioneer Theatre stage was set proportionally to the layout of the Annex, giving the audience a realistic view of the conditions, facing the families tucked away inside. With no set changes, only the costumes, lights and excerpts from Anne’s diary marked the passage of time. The play portrayed the jumble of personalities thrown together and forced to find a way to get along. According to Director Janet Allen, the hiding part “. . . has different kinds of meaning for people at different points in their lives.” For some in the Annex hiding was an inconvenience, painful, traumatic, or grueling. For Anne, however, despite the hardships it was a time for discovery and growth. When reading her account, the wisdom and depth of Frank’s words often make us forget how very young she was; yet the play accentuates her adolescence.
As others argued and complained, Anne was often chastised for her frivolous and theatrical behavior. As time marched on in the Annex, she began to mature. Anne herself noticed the changes, “When I look back I see myself being an utterly superficial girl, I couldn’t go back to being her for the world.” Allen, a seasoned director in her own right, chose to center the play on Anne’s life and development, rather than simply displaying the surface of the famous character. For Allen, “It’s those flaws that cause us to identify with fame, and to deepen our appreciation of the hero’s ultimate—if unwitting—role in history.”
Rebecca Buller not only looked the part of the young Anne Frank, but she flounced around the stage with all the charisma, impatience, drama and attitude which had only ever been captured in writing. Her portrayal of Anne is infused with youth and vitality. While she did much to emulate “the girl who talked too much,” Buller gave her a much louder voice than I ever would have imagined. But then again for most audience members, Anne has always been words on a page, and here she is brought to life.
Established actor Craig Wroe played Anne’s father, Otto Frank. With a twinkle in his eye the cultured, levelheaded “Pim” did much to create peace in the Annex. It is easy to see why he and Anne were able to connect and understand each other so completely, as they both tended to focus on the positive. Jacob Liberman played the role of Peter van Daan, the young son of another family in hiding with the Franks. His nervous mannerisms and hesitant speech easily portrayed the shy, awkward adolescent. Each of the actors in the cast so completely encompassed their character that I rarely thought of them as actors at all, but rather as members of the Secret Annex. I was so caught up in the story that I felt emotionally blindsided when it all came crashing down.
As the play neared its end sniffles filled the room. Although familiar with the story, I was not prepared for the emotional aftermath. I was not ready to part with the characters I had grown so close to. They had changed from unknown victims of the Holocaust to fully developed, three dimensional people: people with feeling, people with family, people with emotion, people from the Annex. Pioneer Theatre presents a powerful story that not only teaches us about the past, but about people and about ourselves. Anne’s words stand to remind us that, “the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”