BWW Reviews: THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK Reminds Us To Never Take Our Freedom For Granted
Freedom is something we take for granted everyday. But as I walked out of the Cupcake Theater in Hollywood after experiencing THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, the cool, if somewhat polluted, air made me feel incredibly sad that Anne never got to experience the cool wind on her face, and for my family members I will never know who were not lucky enough to escape Eastern Europe when my four grandparents did. I thank them everyday for wanting a better life for their children, grandchildren and generations to come who hopefully will never know the stigma of having to wear a yellow Star of David on their clothing as a way to separate them out of society.
Man's inhumanity to man is something I will never understand, any more than Anne Frank did while she and her family endured living in the hidden space above business offices in Amsterdam until 9-3-44 when she and her family were sent to Auschwitz on the last transport to the death camp. Anne's father survived and found her diary after the war and thankfully shared it with the world so the rest of us could get to know her.
If you have never seen THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK onstage, do not miss your chance to see it at the small black box Cupcake Theater in Hollywood, directed with a skillful hand and emotional insight by Sabrina Lloyd, starring Sigi Gradwohl as Anne Frank. Lloyd and Gradwohl present Anne's two-year ordeal hiding with her family during the German occupation of the Netherlands as a story of life, not death, and it is a true depiction of raw, daily survival during the Holocaust.
Told with wit and sentiment, this production is sure to hit home with a truth that still resonates today as Sigi Gradwohl embodies Anne's heart and soul, wide-eyed wonder, and even resembles Anne physically. Tied to the real Anne Frank through her own grandfather who went to school with Anne, Sigi's program notes reflect what a great honor it is for her to fulfill Anne's legacy, to give life to her words, and to perform in Hollywood just as Anne aspired to do. Ms. Gradwohl, your splendid performance brings Anne to life, sharing the truth she wrote, allowing us to experience the joyful young girl she was and always will be in our hearts.
Frank Krueger portrays Anne's loving father Otto Frank, sharing his fierce family loyalty as well as the deep fear he desperately tries to hide from them and himself. Anne has a strained relationship with her mother Edith Frank, and Maria Mastroyannis allows us to see her as the fearful caged animal she was, something Anne would never allow herself to be. Anne's older sister Margot (Becca Leigh Gellman) and Peter Van Daan (Max Lichtig) both have heartfelt scenes with Anne, confiding their innermost secrets and fears. Lichtig is endearing as the shy boy not quite sure how to deal with the more direct Anne, and their first kisses will tug at your heartstrings. I have always wondered how deep their relationship went, but those answers are not in this production nor in Anne's diary as her father edited the book before it was published.
Robert Paterno is the fussy latecomer, Mr. Dussel, the dentist. He and Anne share a room and there are lovely moments when Anne questions him about the non-Jewish woman he had to leave behind. Sabrina Hill and Neil Miller are the bickering Van Daans, not a couple with whom anyone would like to be for more than a few minutes, let alone two years in hiding. If Mr. Van Daan and Otto Frank had not been business partners, I doubt these two families would have agreed to go into hiding together as the two wives could not be more different.
Alejandra Bursik-Cervantes is the caring and concerned Miep Gies who brings news and supplies along with Robert Gibbons as Mr. Kraler. When Meip walks in and Anne runs to smell the fresh air on her, you will get a true sense of the fractured reality Anne faced.
The black box, double-level set lends authenticity to the small space endured by the eight characters. Brynn Sillyman sits throughout the show at the upper stage left level, and presents various Radio Personalities who bring in the real world between time periods in the story. Her rendition of the German soldier barking orders during Brent Paul Gleason's harsh blue lit discovery scene is especially frightening, as it should be.
There were several children in the audience on the day I attended, and I encourage you to bring yours as the story is one all young people need to be told. And this production will share an Anne with them so much like themselves.
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett; Newly Adapted by Wendy Kesselman; Directed by Sabrina Lloyd; Produced by Caity Engler, Sigi Gradwohl, and Year Eight Productions; Performed with the permission of Dramatists Play Service Inc. Performances are February 15-March 9 at The Cupcake Theater, 6520 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90028. Weekends 1 and 2: Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 2pm. Weekends 3 and 4: Fridays and Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 2pm.
In addition to the traditional theater experience, select Sunday matinee performances will be followed by talkbacks with Holocaust survivors moderated by Sigi Gradwohl, for whom the Holocaust connection is close and personal. Gradwohl's grandfather was a primary school classmate of Anne's, but was able to escape Amsterdam thanks to his father's Swiss passport; her grandmother escaped Germany as a child on one of the final Kindertransports to London. As less and less survivors remain today to tell their first-hand experience, this combined program of theater and talkback sessions is aimed at keeping the story of the Holocaust alive and providing a platform for further education.
For more information on the production, Sigi Gradwohl's story, and to support the show's efforts via donation, pre-purchased tickets and advertising opportunities, please visit www.igg.me/at/annefrankcupcake. Tickets also available at www.cupcaketheater.com.
Photos by Caity Engler
Sigi Gradwohl as Anne Frank
Frank Krueger and Sigi Gradwohl
The Van Daan Family (from left: Sabrina Hill, Max Lichtig, Neil Miller)
Sigi Gradwohl and Robert Paterno
Sigi Gradwohl as Anne Frank
Anne Frank's class at Montessori Primary School in Amsterdam. She can be seen standing in the back right wearing white, next to her teacher. Sigi Gradwohl plays Anne Frank in this production, and her grandfather, Peter, is seated in the middle of the classroom, grinning.