What is most crushing about this play based on the diaries of the very young Anne Frank is the fact that she never lost her faith in the goodness of human beings, even until the bitter end. The true story of teenage Anne Frank has been read by millions of people worldwide since it was first published in 1952 and the Pulitzer Prize-winning play viewed by many since its debut on the Broadway stage in 1955. It has made it connection with people of various cultures, religions and ages for over 50 years. Today its message is still relevant. Maybe more than ever…
Thirteen-year-old Anne Frank (portrayed by the youthful Natasha Greenblatt) lives with her family in Amsterdam. It is the Second World War and the Germans invade Holland. Anne and her family are in jeopardy as they are Jewish. Otto Frank (portrayed by Nicholas Rice) secures his family a hiding place in the attic of the place where he works through Mr. Kraler (portrayed by Marcel Jeannin) and Miep Gies (portrayed by Tara Nicodemo). Otto, his wife Edith (portrayed by Sally Singal), daughter Margot (portrayed by Susanna Fournier), and Anne live in a tiny annex with the Van Daan family – Mr. Van Daan (portrayed by James Downing), Mrs. Van Daan (portrayed by Felicia Shulman) and their son Peter (portrayed by Gianpaolo Venuta). Even though the quarters are tight to say the least they are joined by Mr. Dussel (portrayed by Brian Wrench), a dentist. For 25 months these eight people lived in a small space not being able to ever go outside, with very little food and having to be completely silent between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.
The struggle that these eight human beings faced on a daily basis is overwhelming. What is more astonishing is how, in her diaries, Anne was able to remain positive, funny and determined despite the horrible conditions. As the adults around her weakened under the burden, Anne is shown to be the strong one. She goes through all the normal things that a teenage girl does. Fighting with her mother, addressing her awakening sexuality, learning to walk in heels, and having her first period are all things Anne deals with. The obviously older Natasha Greenblatt does a great job portraying Anne's youthful exuberance, insecurities and boy craziness. She allows every person in the audience connect with the character due to her realistic portrayal. We are moved to react. We cringe at her awkwardness, laugh at her silliness and, in the end, unfortunately we are caused to shed tears. She gives us a peek into what too many young Jewish girls were living through at the time.
What can be said about the script? It is award-winning. This Wendy Kesselman adaptation uses humour to lift the obvious building tension. We are never at ease due to the fact that we know the outcome; it is still fraught with many nervous moments for the viewer. The diaries make Anne a chronicler of the horror around her and become a call to action for the rest of us.
Another outstanding aspect of the production is the set. Set designer John C. Dinning has outdone himself. We truly see and feel the tightness of the quarters. We feel the two families' claustrophobia. Dinning's set adds much to the mood of the production.
The play makes us confront the fact that we have learned very little from its lessons. We vowed that we would not allow the atrocities of World War II to happen again, but we just have to look at Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, and others to see that the cycle has continued. The results of racism, greed, power, and irrational hatred are there for all to see onstage. Whenever hatred rears its ugly head this moving play should be trotted out to show us the consequences. It is not something that anyone who sees the play will ever forget.
The team at the Leanor and Alvin Segal theatre is not only bringing us good theatre but educating us at the same time. This 'community service' should be applauded!