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THEATER REVIEW: The Diary of Anne Frank

by Chris Conley

At first, you are painfully aware of the fate that awaits Anne Frank. She and her family will be discovered. Theyll be sent to a jail in Amsterdam after theyre caught, then to a transport camp, ultimate destination the Bergen-Belsen. Shell survive the initial selection. She dies of typhoid seven months later a few weeks before British liberators arrive.

As you watch The Diary of Anne Frank , you are looking at the dead. This has the making of a grim night at the theater. You already know there will be no songs to hum on the way home.

But something strange happens about 20-minutes into the play. You find yourself caught up in the characters situation. You root for them, even though you know the final outcome. You feel frightened that they might be caught. Your hopes rise when news from the outside world arrives. And you become more comfortable with the natural optimism of young people. Anne hates her mother and then recognizes shes been too harsh. She has a crush on Peter. She accommodates her sister. She's so... human, despite everything that's happening around her. The young people, in hiding for two years, come to think that soon everything will be as it was before. I suspect the adults are realists; they probably know theyre on borrowed time. And if, by chance, they arent they know things will never be the same.

The Wausau Community Theater has assembled a strong cast for their production. Jonica Richards, as Anne Frank, has volumes of lines and figures in almost every moment of the play. She is up to the task. Daniel Stefansky, as Peter Van Daan, gives a remarkably layered performance. His love for Anne grows as his own doubts about himself and the world around him mount. Jeff McDonald, as the last-into-hiding Mr. Dussel, is the best in the cast at showing the stress of being confined with strangers. Youre convinced hed be a nice, grandfatherly man under different circumstances.

And there is a stand-out performance, perhaps the best I have ever seen in a WCT production. Dan Drenk as Otto Frank is the star of this show. His character is the glue that holds the others together, sometimes peacemaker, sometimes comforter, and an authority figure as needed. He is an understated yet powerful presence as the play closes. We know he is the only survivor. He made me feel one of the cruelest ironies of the holocaust; those who survived tended to be the ones who would feel the greatest emotion at their losses.

There is a question about how the play is presented. All eight characters, spending half their days in complete silence for fear of being caught, display silent, almost subdued tension. Theyre portrayed as slowly being ground-down over time. Theyve become weary. Other productions of The Diary of Anne Frank have displayed more anger, more raw emotion, as if the characters were ready to grab each others throats. Some of the eight have grown to hate each other. In this production, they bicker and snipe. Its more likely they want to yell or come to blows.

You might even become angry with yourself for getting lost in this playfor hoping against hope that theres some kind of happy ending. They have a map and a radio. They know the allies are coming. Springtime brings fresh strawberries to the upper room, and talk of going back to school and finding lost friends. A few weeks more? Maybe another month or two? And how quickly that hope is dashed.

This is not easy to watch. It is also not to be missed.

Chris Conley
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
11.4.10

There are additional performances of The Diary of Anne Frank on Friday and Saturday night at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2pm at the Grand Theater in Wausau.


By Rodrigo Galindez (Flickr: Anne Frank Zentrum) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons