OREM — The Diary of Anne Frank remains a staple in modern literature, the personal thoughts and feelings of a young Jewish teenager during the Holocaust striking and resounding against a backdrop of Nazi facism. I remember reading the book in high school and being impressed that a simple teenager could have recorded the world while preserving the energy of the around her. The nuances of her storytelling capture a slice of life, not necessarily honed in on the horrors of Nazism, but the day-to-day happenings of her family. A balance of personal and political, her writing manages to serve as a platform, upon which we can examine our own lives. Anne Frank has always been less a character, and more a peer, and revisiting this production reminded me of that same, intimate feeling of greeting an old friend.
Translated to the stage by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, the production The Diary of Anne Frank remains largely true to the edited journals of Miss Frank. It can be difficult to lay out the scope of tragedy apparent within the narrative, but a daunting, still first few moments spent with Otto Frank absolutely lends a necessary air of something lost. The audience can see through his eyes the life that once existed and the tragedy that followed. Indeed, the story of the Franks is an absolutely tragic one, similar to many Jewish victims of the Holocaust. As a means to escape the dangerous anti semitism, the Frank family left behind their house and relocated to a secret annex, a small series of rooms shared with an office, the door of which was concealed behind a mock book case. With only the clothes they could wear at one time and a bag full of possessions each, the Frank family was effectively in hiding. Joined by the Van Daans and later Mr. Dussel, the household members hid from persecution for nearly 2 years, until an outside source betrayed their location and the SS took each person to their inevitable demise. This play chronicles that two year span, giving life to Anne Frank’s diary, and painting a vivid picture of the fear, the hope, and life distilled in one teenage girl’s honest account of her life.
Amber Dodge Tinney deserves special praise for the realism she brings to her role as Anne Frank. It can be a challenge to portray a fifteen year old girl, but Tinney brings all the nuance of adolescence to her performance. Her Anne is rambunctious, almost maddeningly so, and manages to question the world around her with a dizziness that certainly frustrates many of her housemates. There’s a youthful sincerity to her, however, a real desire to be good and to understand precisely what is happening in her life.
Mark Pulham as Otto Frank anchors Anne’s performance with his stalwart sense of direction. As family patriarch, it is his responsibility to guide the Frank (and Van Daan) clan through the rough times, and Pulham delivers. His evenness, easy relatability makes him a cherished figure on stage. Real warmth and nurturing exuded in his relationship with Tinney’s Anne, which made the penultimate loss of his daughter that much more sorrowful.
I appreciated the special consideration given to familial relationships with this play. It can be easy to lose the focus personal connections with so forceful a setting as Nazi-overrun Amsterdam; this production gives highlight to the richly complicated relationships formed in the closed confines of their home. I was particularly drawn to the relationship between Anne and Edith Frank (played by Annadee Morgan). Morgan plays a more conservative motherly role, often the source of strain between herself and her youngest girl. There is a real sense of wanting more, of wanting to be a mother to her Anne that is often stymied by Anne’s abundant willpower. The strain of managing two households, in addition to being in hiding lends a certain stress to the character, but Morgan’s Edith bears her burden with a graceful dignity.
Becca Ingram’s Margot acts in careful poise, a meek and quieted version of her mother, but the consistent foil to Anne’s wild energy. Ingram carries herself with a delightful sweetness, though it is fun to see her growth throughout the performance too, as Margot grows more into herself. I also particularly enjoyed Morgan Gunter’s Peter Van Daan. Again, it can be a challenge for an actor to portray a character much younger than themself, but Gunter captured the delights of teenage angst with a broodiness fitting of any adolescent. Gunter allowed the audience to see Peter’s external walls and how he has managed to shield himself from the people around him. Then, Gunter beautifully deconstructed those walls as he began to let Anne in. It was yet another relationship that took time to really develop, and the result was a beautiful connection between two human beings, rather than actors playing at games. There whole play had a sense of intimacy, whether between father and daughter, mother and daughter, or boy and girl, that seemed beautiful and personal.
While uncomfortable initially, I appreciated director David Morgan’s decision to have the cast on stage and somewhat visible during blackouts. Having actors change costumes on stage, rather than leaving and utilizing a stage hand, and keeping everyone present in some room at all times was cramped, and prying. Such a small space and so many people together helped to convey a sense of the discomfort surely felt by the Frank family at the time. The continued presence, even during intermission, began to feel like an intrusion of privacy—for which I was strangely grateful. The actors developed lives of their own, and it felt far less like watching a play than just peeking in on little vignettes from someone’s daily life. Truly, the collaboration between cast and crew afforded for something more real, more touching than an average night at the theatre. The characters became real people, and indeed, reminded the audience that the characters in the play did once exist. It’s a richly constructed narrative that finds poignancy over and over again, particularly in those last moments when we are reminded of the fate of all those living in the secret annex.
While the story is a well-known one, I would encourage theatre goers to take the time to revisit Anne Frank. This production manages to strike a personal chord, bringing viewers into the day-to-day existence of what should have been an ordinary life, but brings balance and realism to the extra-ordinary circumstances surrounding the Frank family. The lens of political backdrop, contrasted with more intimate situations arising within the family situation makes this a play I would recommend for younger theatre goers as well. The Diary of Anne Frank remains an absolutely beautiful piece, and one that I look forward to revisiting again.