BWW Review: THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK at Center Repertory Company Beautifully Tells the Enduring Tale of Hope and Humanity in the Face of Horrific Inhumanity
Eight people trapped in a storage attic hiding from the Nazis in war-torn Amsterdam. Like the passengers on the Titanic, or the soldiers at Custer's Last Stand, knowing their eventual fate may seem like a dreary exercise in heartbreaking melodrama. But Center Rep's sensational production of Wendy Kesselman's Tony-nominated adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank is wonderfully alive and full of vitality seen through the hopeful eyes of thirteen-year-old Anne, portrayed in a tour de force performance by Monique Hafen Adams.
Director Timothy Near masterfully illustrates the unimaginable horror of the situation; the air raids, Hitler's radio rants and the police sirens that may indicate imminent capture. Forced into the tiny space they would inhabit for almost two years, the Frank family, Otto, Edith, Margot and Anne share their lives with good friends the Van Daans (mother, father and young son Peter). Hidden by Miep Gies (Allison Aquin) and Mr. Kraler (PAUL PLAIN) bring them rationed food and supplies, and news from the outside.
An eighth character is added to the mix - dentist Mr. Dussel (Michael Patrick Gafney), further adding to the claustrophobic atmosphere brilliantly realized in Nina Ball's multitiered sectional set design cluttered with cots, books and boxes. The audience is the fourth wall, witness to every daily movement and private moment of the characters. Anne addresses us directly, exposing the thoughts he diligently writes in her diary.
The tiny attic may be their prison, but it is transformed into a home by the will of the characters to retain some sense of normalcy and heritage. They celebrate Hanukah where Anne gives everyone a thoughtful, though meager gift. The girls sing the traditional song "Maoh Tsur", making it a defiant gesture of their very existence. Shared dinners, the eight over a small piece of cake and of course the squabble over the only private space, the WC, are beautifully presented.
Monique Hafen Adams delivers a star making performance, imbuing Anne with a youthful optimism as she reads her movie star magazines and dreams of becoming a writer and travelling to Paris. She's a typical thirteen-year-old; opposing her mother, doting on her father, annoying the other with her precocious jabbering. Her budding sexuality and attraction to sixteen-year-old Peter is a delight to behold.
The ensemble cast is solid through and through. Kevin Singer's Peter is shy and awkward, his father and mother (Michael Butler and Domenique Lozano) quibble but love each other, and Mr. Dussel (Michael Patrick Gafney) is abrupt, standoffish but becomes part of the extended family by osmosis. Margot Frank (Maya Michal Sherer) is the dancer and loving sister. Otto Frank (Victor Talmadge) is the solid glue that hold the group together, while his wife Edith (Marcia Pizzo) is the emotional, heart on her sleeve counterpoint
The play is full of tender moments of humor. It's a testament to indomitable will of people put in extraordinary circumstances and striving to retain their humanity. Exquisitely lit by Kurt Landisman, realistic sound design by Teddy Hulsker and authentic costuming by Jessie Amoroso, this production is a much-needed witness to the human spirit. Persecuted by their religious beliefs, their plight can be seen today in continuing genocides and racial profiling here in America. Anne Frank's diary, the only remnant of a family's existence reminds us of what really matters and at makes humanity shine in the face of our relentless inhumanity to others. Timothy Near, her stellar cast and high-quality technical crew have brought the beauty of Anne's life to a new generation who hopefully may be the seeds of change.
The Diary of Anne Frank continues through April 28th, 2019 at The Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. Tickets are available at www.lesherartscenter.org or by calling (925) 943-7469.
Photos by Mello