THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK
Dramatization by Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett
Based on the book “Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl”
Artisan Center Theater
Produced by Dee Ann Blair
Direction by Taffy Geisel
Stage Management by Eric Bird
Set Design by Taffy Geisel and Jonathan Studstill
Scenic Design & Painting by Meredith Stowe
Lighting Design by Jonathan Studstill
Special Lighting Effects by Nate Davis
Costume Design by Nita Cadenhead
Properties Design by Chris Seil
Joanna Berry – Anne Frank
Tim Dewhirst – Mr. Frank
Teri McHargue – Mrs. Frank
Scout Harrell – Margot
Esther Selgrath – Mrs. Van Daan
Timothy Raif – Mr. Van Daan
Jonathan Lannom – Peter
Ariana Stephens – Miep
Leonel Leon – Mr. Kraler
Darin Hobbs – Mr. Dussel
*Denotes performers in reviewed production. This show is multiple cast.
Reviewed performance on October 19th, 2012
Artisan Center Theater’s production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” falls short of a complete and polished presentation of this difficult stage drama.
The story concerns the lives of a Jewish family hiding from the German occupying forces in war-torn Amsterdam. To escape the horrors of Nazi persecution, Otto Frank hides with his wife and two daughters in attic rooms above an Amsterdam warehouse for two years. Also hiding with the Franks are four other people, Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan, their son Peter, and a dentist, Mr Dussel. In her diary, Anne recorded an account of the trials and tribulations of the people around her, all trying to live a normal life in cramped attic accommodation while under the constant threat of discovery by the Gestapo. This is a story made all the more dramatic because it is based on a true account and concerns the lives of real people who lived at a time of unspeakable horror for the Jewish population in many European countries.
The play opened simultaneously in seven German cities on October 1st, 1956. It received the Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich. It also received the 1956 New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play.
Let me begin by saying that everyone should read the book this play is based on, “Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl”, for an amazing true story of this young girl’s life experiences during a horrific time in our human history. It is still required reading in a lot of schools but adults should also immerse themselves in her “diaries”. They are truly breathtaking and heartbreaking.
That said, Artisan attempts to present the stage adaptation in a “glossed over” way that loses the depth and poignancy of the events this young girl experienced and then wrote of. The theater prides itself on being family friendly, which is a wonderful mission and one I’m a strong proponent of. However, dialogue edits and story presentation so as not to offend, in some cases, removes the direct horror and fear of the events. I have seen many presentations of this adaptation and there were aspects in Artisan’s that are missing from the author’s original vision and voice of the play. This, in my opinion, is an insult and an enormous disservice to these award winning writers.
Artisan is essentially a theatre in the round but uses areas in and around the audience as performance space. I have seen multiple shows at Artisan and in most cases the set designs work but not in this case.
The scenic painting and artistry by Meredith Stowe is wonderfully done and very detailed. Ms. Stowe transforms every wall and floor area into beautiful works of art. The layout of the stage unfortunately detracts from that artistry. Depending on where you are seated, a few locations actually force you to turn around in your seat to watch the action. In addition to being physically uncomfortable, you always feel as if you’re missing something happening on the other stage locations. I do, however, appreciate the integrated projections used in the production. They are eye catching and appropriately add to the overall set design.
Direction by Taffy Geisel is scattered. Entrances, exits and stage pictures always seem a bit off, and in some cases distract from the dialogue and action she is trying to present with her actors. There are some good blocking scenes and group staging in the production, but overall, the direction seems disconnected from the script.
Jonathan Studstill’s lighting design accent the scenes and set well, based on the layouts he is presented with. Appropriate colors, angles and focus are well done and never detract from the scene. There are wonderful uses of practical lighting in the production that truly add a special feel to the show and the action taking place.
Sound design (which is not credited) is a great distraction from the performance. Scene changes are done with voiceovers from “Anne” that are never loud enough to understand. In some cases the voiceovers are timeline references that the audience misses and it confuses the storyline. The cast also uses body microphones that in every scene of the play cause problems. From not being on or loud enough, to transmission loops and very loud, jarring static interferences, every use of them is distracting.
Costume design by Nita Cadenhead is very well done. Every performer is well presented in appropriate attire for the setting. There are very nice uses of layering, detail and function in all of the costuming and you are never disappointed. Every one of Ms. Cadenhead’s designs accent the scene and assist in the storyline.
Casting is well done and the ensemble excels with the interpretations of their characters. Every actor gives convincing performances that keep you involved and interested. The ensemble is a well-oiled machine working well together with some notable performances.
The charming Joanna Berry in the title role of Anne Frank is a pleasure. She carries an enormous amount of lines in the show and delivers them with the talent of a professional young actress. It would be a great task for an adult to maintain the amount of memorization this role demands and this young girl takes on that task splendidly!
Tim Dewhirst as Mr. Frank delivers a wonderfully well-rounded performance. The emotional highs and lows of his character are well presented alongside the lighthearted moments in scenes. Mr. Dewhirst’s choices in character are perfect and draw you into his place in the story.
Peter, played by Jonathan Lannom, also does a good job in characterization. He never allows his character to go too far yet never pulls back. Mr. Lannom does a splendid job of allowing you to follow his character’s arc in the story and delivers a strong performance.
The Diary of Anne Frank is a difficult, heart-wrenching true life accounting of a dark time. Artisan Center Theater presents the basic core of the story but does not delve into the darker depths of this young girl’s writings. You will leave with a basic understanding of the events, but unfortunately, without the true, deep emotional connection of the young Anne Frank.