BWW Review: THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK at Ankeny Community Theatre: A Diary That We Must Never Forget
As we remember the 75th anniversary of D-day, it is important to remember why D-Day was so important. When the allied forces invaded France, it was a turning point in World War II. When a little girl in hiding found out about the invasion, she had hope that she would one day be able to come out of hiding and live freely again. That little girl's name was Anne Frank. Ankeny Community Theatre is making sure her story is not forgotten with their current production of "The Diary of Anne Frank."
In case it's been a while since you read "The Diary of Anne Frank," it is the diary of a girl who has gone into hiding in the upstairs of the annex that her father's business was in. The diary, kept over a period of two years, tells the story of herself as well as the other 7 people live as they all shared this small space in hiding from the Nazis. The diary ends three days before her family and the others living in the annex were found by the Nazis.
In order to successfully do this production, you need a child who can bring Anne Frank's optimism to life on stage. In Ankeny's production, Grace Smithey plays the role of Anne Frank. I enjoyed not only did she have the necessary optimism for the character, but she also brought an innocence to the role that let the character discover herself as the show went on. There were many scenes throughout the play that showed her range as an actress, but the one that I thought best illustrated that came at the end of Act 1 during the Hanukah scene. You see her go from joyfully giving out gifts, to fearing that they may have been found, and then finally to start building the joy she had before as the cast joined her in singing.
While all the actors do an amazing job bringing this show to life, there are a few actors whose portrayal were a great contrast to Grace's Anne Frank. The first was John Audlehelm's portrayal of Anne's father Otto Frank. He had the daunting task of setting the weight of the events in the show from the beginning. I appreciated how much weight he put into each of the losses as he tells about the demise of each of the characters at the hands of the Nazi's. It is a great reminder of why we continue telling these stories.
The other performance that I felt captured the essence of the character and furthered the story was Josh Zirkle as Peter van Daan. One of the things I find important when looking at actors in a show is the arch their character takes in the show. While his role seems small in the first act, he flexes his muscles as an actor in act 2. Much of Act 1 he seems shy and sticks to his room with his cat. Once we get to the end of Act 1 and see Anne's kindness at Hanukah and the disappearance of his cat, we really get to see his character come to life. The way he treats Anne as a friend in Act 2 helps the audience understand that while he might not have a romantic interest in her, they would still share a kiss.
While characters are developed by actors, for the development to fit with the show, a director with a strong vision of the show is needed. One of the difficulties a director faces is deciding how to keep the momentum going from the first act to the second act when there is an intermission that stops the show. Director Cheryl Clark came up with a creative solution to this issue. While the dialogue may have stopped for the intermission, the cast continued acting on stage as though they were the characters in the show, having to remain quiet to avoid people hearing something and suspecting there may be people in hiding. It was a great way to keep the actors in the mindset of the characters, and not have to spend the beginning of the act working their way back into the show.
The Diary of Anne Frank reminds us the keep our heads up, even in the darkest times. It also reminds us of a time in history that we can never forget, or let happen again. It is important that theatres keep telling this and other stories of what happened in World War 2. If you haven't got tickets for this production yet, you will want to hurry and get your tickets booked. The seating was limited last weekend. Ankeny Community Theatres Production of "The Diary Of Anne Frank" continues with performances June 13-15 at 7:30 PM and June 16 at 2:00 PM. For more information about Ankeny Community Theatre or this production, visit https://www.ankenycommunitytheatre.com/