By Karen Isaacs
Even if you have seen it before, Playhouse on Park’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank through Nov. 19 is worth getting tickets for. It is that good.
The intimate setting – you are never more than four rows from the stage – adds to the emotional impact. You can see every nuance of expression and gesture. Even the large stage itself is a benefit, permitting scenic designer David Lewis to create a realistic apartment where the Franks and others hide for two plus years. While it seems small for eight people, I’ve been told the actually space was even smaller.
Director Ezra Barnes has assembled a fine ensemble cast which works seamlessly together. Anne is the central character but in this production you are allowed to think about and feel for the other characters.
Barnes is using the adaptation by Wendy Kesselman, which was done a number of years ago. The original play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett was written in the 1950s; Otto Frank, Anne’s father on only survivor of the family, oversaw and controlled not only the play but also the editing of the diary.
Between the period, and a father’s protectiveness, certain aspects of Anne’s diary were played down or omitted. Kesselman has added these elements back in which gives us a more real Anne. After all, when the family goes into hiding, she is just 13 and when they are captured over two years later she is nearly 16. In addition the experiences of war time, she has gone from a child to a young woman going through puberty and discovering an interest in boys, fellow hider, Peter Van Daan.
For those who have forgotten the details of the story, Otto Frank, a successful business owner, with his partner Mr. Van Daan go into hiding above the offices as the Nazis increase their round up of Jews in Amsterdam in 1942. They are aided by two people in the business, Miep Gies who handles all the daily logistics including finding ration books to provide food and other necessary items and Mr. Kraler who also assists and runs the business. Seven people are crammed into the space: the four Franks, Otto and his wife Edith, their older daughter Margot and Anne. The Von Dann’s include the husband and wife and their son, Peter who arrives with his cat.
A year later, Mr. Dussel, a dentist also is taken in.
Not only is the space crowded, and food becomes both limited and scarce, but they must live with many restrictions because of the workers below: no talking and limited movement during the days among others.
Of course, tensions arise – between Margot and Anne, the Franks and the Von Daans, and the spouses of each family.
Anne, played by Isabelle Barbier, has a startling resemblance to pictures of the real Anne. Though she is the title character and sometimes the narrator, she does not overshadow the other characters.
Barbier creates a realistic adolescent girl, in voice, gestures and tone. But she is not alone in her skill. Each member of the cast does the same. Lisa Bostnar is excellent as the more high-strung and terrified Mrs. Van Daan. Alex Rafala is right on as the teenage boy, Peter, who is shy and only seems to respond to Anne. And this is not to imply that any of the other actors aren’t excellent as well. It is truly an ensemble cast.
Yet, some of the biggest praise must go to set designer Lewis, He has used every inch of the big square stage to create the apartment. As you look at the beds – Anne and Margot initially share one small room that includes a bed and a cot, the Van Daan’s sleep in the living area, and Peter has another small room, you can feel how on-top of each other they are. You also can see the attic where Peter and Anne sometimes go to escape the prying eyes of adults. It is amazing that there aren’t more tension in the space.
Director Barnes has kept the cast on stage during the intermission which increases the feeling of being trapped.
Overall this is an excellent production. Of course, Otto Frank’s narration at the end reminds of just how close they all came to being saved. Unfortunately, he was the only survivor.
For tickets visit Playhouse on Parkor call 860-523-5900. It is located at 244 Park Road, West Harford.