BWW Review: THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK at Des Moines Playhouse: Letting the Legacy of a Girl's Diary Live on.
Looking for the light in the dark times we face can be very difficult. In 1942, a girl went into hiding with her family from the Nazis who had invaded Holland. While in hiding, the girl kept a diary of her experience, which after her death, would become the most read books in the world. Seventy-eight years after starting her diary, her story can be seen on stage in Des Moines Playhouse's beautiful production of "The Diary of Anne Frank," which opened this last weekend. Their production comes at just the right time as the day this review comes out, and we will be pausing for International Holocaust Memorial Day.
Before the horrific events Anne Frank went through at Begen-Belsen concentration camp, which eventually led to her death, Anne's family of four, along with four other people, moved from their homes into an annex to hide from the Nazi's. The play focuses on those years of her life, which were some of the most informative years for her. The play does a beautiful job of switching from scenes from her diary to moments where we hear Anne's thoughts as she is writing.
Every director has a unique way of telling the stories we see on stage. As you see the shows they direct, you start to notice similarities in the way they tell stories. Their style becomes distinct to you. One of those voices we have in Des Moines is Jodi Jinks. Her signature is the way she incorporates movement into the shows she directs. When I found out she was directing, I knew it would be a fantastic production, and was curious how her style would be incorporated into the show. There were two moments in the show that I felt were her unique directing style'. The first is at the beginning as we see a few silhouettes on stage that appear to be moving in the rain through the darkness. When the lights come up, we find out those people moving were Anne and her family. The second time came towards the end of the show. It was the Nazi's found the family and took them out of the annex. I won't give away what she did, but I found it to be poignant and suspenseful. The lighting by Amanda Pichler and Sound Design by Mark Toebben made these moments even more impactful. It was powerful enough that I heard a kid in the audience tell their parent how scary the ending was.
The set designed by Alex Snodgrass and dressed by Angela Lampe was massive. As you entered the auditorium, it was as though you were walking into the annex. The three-level set gave the actors multiple playing areas while keeping the playing space small. One of the pieces of the set that struck me was the steps coming up from the floor level entrance. Incorporated into the steps were luggage pieces, which I found to be a fitting touch as these were the steps that led up to the annex they had traveled to hide.
Another piece that made this production powerful was the performances from the cast of 11. At the center of this fantastic cast is Isabelle Piedras, who is making her Des Moines Playhouse debut in the title role. Her portrayal had an endearing quality from the moment the show begins. The relationships she has with each actor onstage felt true to what a 14-year-old girl would feel. In the role of Anne's father, Otto Frank is Greg Blumhagen. He brings an authenticity to the role allows the audience to feel the comfort he provides to his family, yet feel the pain when he reveals what happened to his family. The cast also features terrific performances from Melanie Hall and Rachel Geisler as Edith and Margo Frank, Marcus Bundy as Peter van Daan, Molly Fullerton and Brad Church as Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan, Rebecca Haroldson as Miep Gies, Oliver Thrun as Mr. Kraler/Nazi, and Jack Schuler as Nazi.
Anne Frank says, "I want to go on living even after my death!" Each aspect of this production has as much care as the words she chose to put in her diary. My hope for this production is that it inspires people to go back and read "The Diary of Anne Frank" again, or for the first time if they haven't read it before. I know it's a challenge that I'm going to take on. For more information about Des Moines Playhouse's production, or to buy tickets, visit https://www.dmplayhouse.com/events/the-diary-of-anne-frank
Review written by DC Felton
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