Hey, Mom! Talking to My Mother #315 - Diary of Anne Frank review
Review: What A Do tells powerful story of Anne Frank
"The Diary of Anne Frank”
a production of What A Do Theatre
Attended Date: May 13, 2016
reviewed by Christopher Tower
Anne Frank felt that Nazi Germany was a phase, a temporary condition, and that society would eventually outgrow it. “People are essentially good,” she writes in her famous diary. But after two years of hiding, it seemed the Nazis may not be a phase at all. And we all know how this story ends, as the book entitled “The Diary of Anne Frank” sits highly on many lists of the best and most important books of the Twentieth Century.
The What A Do (WAD) Theatre of Springfield, located on Dickman Road near the airport, brings to life the story this extraordinary young girl, her family, and the others with whom she hid from the Nazis during what has become known as the Holocaust.
The play version of “The Diary of Anne Frank” continues WAD’s series of productions of core public school curricula that have also included “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Little Women.” To encourage attendance as a learning experience, the lobby is filled with museum-like displays of Anne’s life and the years of war ravaged Europe the story depicts from 1942 to 1944.
“The Diary of Anne Frank” also known as “The Diary of a Young Girl” has sold 30 million copies worldwide since its publication in 1947. In 1956, the dramatization by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett opened on Broadway and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The production also won multiple Tony Awards. Subsequently, there have been several films, most notably the 1959 film for which Shelley Winters won an Academy Award.
The WAD production is faithful to the original and does a remarkable job recreating the intense claustrophobia the people felt while hiding for two years in a loft apartment above a pectin business, the entrance to which was hidden by a secret door. Director Randy Wolf carefully orchestrates the closed quarters confinement in many ways. For instance, the characters change costumes on stage in semi-darkness to recreate how little privacy they experienced while living together. Characters consistently get in each other’s way, and as the show progresses, they are seen to visibly starve, their faces growing gaunt and sallow.
After the Nazis occupied the Netherlands, jews started disappearing, dragged from their homes by the Gestapo and deported to one of the many Nazi death camps. Fearing for his family’s continued safety and survival, Otto Frank (Joe Dely) makes arrangements for his family to hide in the annex of his Amsterdam business. Along with his two daughters Margot (Maddy Haywood) and Anne (Averi Beck) and his wife (Stacy (Vest) Little), he asked Mr. Van Daan (Troy Randall Kilpatrick), Ms. Van Daan (Rachel Markillie), and their son Peter (Matthew Cole until May 27 then Christian Perez) to join them in hiding. Later, they are asked to take in a local dentist, Mr. Dussel (Dave Stubbs). With the exception of the Frank family, these are not the actual names of the others in hiding. The cast is rounded out by the two go-betweens who bring food and supplies to the Franks and their friends: Miep (Teri Noaeill (Christ)) and Mr. Kraler (Scott Whitesell).
In the end, the Franks and their friends are deported by the Nazis, and only Otto Frank survives. Presumably, Anne Frank died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen not long after her family’s arrest.
The show ends on Otto Frank (Joe Dely) standing under a single cone of light, weeping because his daughter’s hope and determination – qualities he preached to them all for two years to keep the peace in their difficult living situation -- out-distanced his own: “she puts me to shame,” he cries.
Dely is just one actor in a fantastic ensemble cast. He turns in another strong and consistent performance as the family patriarch. Stacy (Vest) Little is also superb as his wife, especially when it is revealed that Mr. Van Daan has been stealing food, and she can unleash the full force of her fury on him and his wife.
Kilpatrick delivers and edgy and times incredibly (and intentionally) uncomfortable performance as Mr. Van Daam. Markillie proves once again that she has grown as an actress over her years at WAD. She is particularly inspired as Mrs. Van Daan. Careful to not make her character over-wrought, she brings forth true anguish in remarkable ways. Dave Stubbs once again shows his mastery of the acting craft as well with his role as Mr. Dussel, which is varied and nuanced.
Of the young people, Maddy Haywood shows that she is one of the best, up and coming young performers in the WAD retinue. Her performance as Margot is measured and graceful. For his first time to the stage, Matthew Cole shows himself to be a gifted and smart young actor in the role of Peter Van Daan.
It’s no surprise that Averi Beck takes the signature role of Anne Frank, as she has appeared in so many key roles in the last few years at WAD, including “Anne of Green Gables” and its sequel and “Little Women.” Beck is well suited to the role of Anne Frank. Her performance is powerful and excellent, but at times, she plays her role a bit too much like her previous roles. She’s at her best when playing a scene unlike previous roles rather than the gushing outpouring of impassioned content that was characteristic of Anne from “Anne of Green Gables.”
The other player on the scene is definitely Randy Wolf’s ingenious direction that heightens the emotional content of the characters and their conflicts artfully. Lighting designs by Samantha Snow are especially key in establishing mood and claustrophobia of the sunlight-deprived characters.
Like many of its other shows, What A Do Theatre provides a good evening of entertainment along with a must-see educational opportunity for area students who study this important novel in their classes. Though the ending is sad, the production is powerfully moving.
Have someone give you a kiss, and tell you that I love you.
Talk to you tomorrow, Mom.
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