BWW Review: Arizona Theatre Company Presents THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK

BWW Review: Arizona Theatre Company Presents THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK

How does one survive in the shadow of evil, with knowledge of an impending doom, and still find meaning and hope when all meaning and hope seem forever lost? Victor Frankl, reflecting on his experience in the concentration camp at Auschwitz (Man's Search for Meaning), observed that "The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent."

We will never know whether Anne Frank learned the trick during her final days at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. We have only her diary and her father's recollections to have a sense of who she was, to contemplate her feelings and attitude in the time before she and her family were dragged by the Gestapo from their Amsterdam sanctuary. Her written words in a way echo Frankl's: How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world...I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart...Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy."

We may want to believe that she carried her indomitable spirit and faith straight to the end, but we can't be sure. We can only hope.

And, for a brief while, instead, we may imagine the unyielding energy of this vibrant adolescent in the confines of the theatre ~ through Wendy Kesselman's brilliant adaptation of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett's dramatization, THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK.

David Ira Goldstein, recently retired from his position as Arizona Theatre Company's artistic director, returns to put his distinctive signature on the play. The result is a sensitively drawn, powerfully commanding, and deeply unsettling portrait of a family in waiting for the inevitable.

It's Goldstein's artistry and humanity that endows the production with an intimacy and gaiety that is almost too much to bear. Because we know what's coming. The screeches and sirens outside, the haunting pronouncements of the Fuehrer, the huge white screen that slowly shrinks into terrifying darkness ~ all, means by which the savvy director is sure to remind us of the dangers that lurk beyond.

Within, however, Anna Lentz transfixes us with a captivating and endearing portrayal of Anne. In every sense, Anne is a bundle of typical teenage contradictions and complexities. She spins from room to room with boundless energy, entreating and annoying those who've joined her family in hiding ~ the Van Daans (Ann Arvia and John Preston) and their son Peter, and Mr. Dussel (Michael Santo) ~ and who are thus swept up in her wake. She adores her father (Steve Hendrickson), feels alienated from her mother (Naama Potok), and cherishes her older sister Margot (Devon Prokopek). She is experiencing the changes in her body, discovering her sexuality, bonding with Peter (Gus Cuddy) with whom she enjoys her first kiss. And, when the rest of the action freezes, her utterances about her future and her intentions and her beliefs, taken from her diary, are decisive. In a remarkable feat of acting, Lentz captures the soul and moods and energy of Anne Frank.

In the end, the kindness of the Righteous Gentiles, Miep Gies (Brenda Jean Foley) and Mr. Kraler (Harold Dixon) is compromised. Everyone is seized and removed.

In a gripping and tear-inducing coda, Otto Frank returns to the top floor of The Warehouse where he and the others found refuge. He recounts the fate of all who shared this space. In this moment of overwhelming grief, Steve Hendrickson's soliloquy is unyielding in its intensity and breathtaking in its sorrow ~ enough so that a reverential pause is required before the applause ensues.

Here's a play to which adults should bring their children ~ for perspective. And, for remembering.

THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, Arizona Theatre Company's co-production with Geva Theatre Center, runs through June 3rd at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix.

Photo credit to Tim Fuller

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