It's almost impossible to overstate the power of Anne Frank's diary to humanize victims of the Holocaust. The diary, which tells the story of an emotional, intelligent, dramatic and gifted teenager's two-year confinement with seven other people as they attempt to hide from the Nazis in occupied Amsterdam, has become a classic of twentieth century literature, and the stage adaptation of the diary, now at Pioneer Memorial Theatre, brings that classic text to life with poignancy and sensitivity.
The Diary of Anne Frank is a co-production of Pioneer Theatre Company and Indiana Repertory Theatre, with IRT Artistic Director Janet Allen directing. It closed in Indianapolis Feb. 26 before opening in Salt Lake City March 18. The play was adapted from the diary by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett in 1955 and won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1956. It was revised in 1997 by Wendy Kesselman with additional material from the diary that was published after the death of Anne's father, Otto Frank, in 1980.
Like many people, I read Anne Frank's diary in high school, but the onstage version brought the characters to life, and hearing Anne's words spoken made me more aware of the young girl's real gift for writing. The play highlights the characters' strengths and flaws, and they are not entirely likeable. Anne, especially, is portrayed by Rebecca Buller as she comes across in her diary - intense, full of life, immature and obnoxious. She's like a lot of teenage girls I know, with larger than life emotions that can light up a room one moment and drive people crazy the next. For me, the most touching scene in the play comes when Anne forgets herself and somehow manages to create a Hanukkah present for each member of the group.
The rest of the cast: Denise Cormier as the brittle, bewildered Edith; Craig Wroe as the steady, wise Otto; Erin Neufer as the quiet, fragile Margot; Paul Kiernan and Constance Macy as the bickering but ultimately loving Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan; Jacob Liberman as the shy, sensitive Peter; and Rob Johansen as the neurotic, lonely Mr. Dussel; do a wonderful job with the material. Another of the play's most touching moments comes when Mrs. Van Daan comforts her husband after he is caught stealing bread in the middle of the night.
The story of Anne Frank is even more poignant because most audience members know its tragic end before it begins. Seven of the eight people in the group, including Anne, her mother Edith, her sister Margot, three members of the Van Pels family (called the Van Daan family in the play), and Fritz Pfeffer (called Mr. Dussel in the play) died in Nazi concentration camps, some just days before the camps were liberated. The lone survivor of the group was Anne's father, Otto Frank, who returned to Amsterdam after his release from the camps and published his daughter's diary.
The Diary of Anne Frank is my favorite Pioneer Memorial production this year, and I can recommend it with only one reservation: the emotional intensity of the characters, especially Anne, might be too much for some people.
March 18-April 2, 2011
Mondays-Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.
Fridays and Saturdays, 8:00 p.m.
Saturday matinees, 2:00 p.m.
Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre
300 S. 1400 E.
$24-$42; Children K - 12 are half price on Mondays and Tuesdays
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