Saturday, October 23, 2010
Review: The Diary of Anne Frank
Getting the opportunity to see this play was exciting knowing the significance of the story and its place in history. However, I must admit, my first thought was, “How are they going to turn this story into a two-hour performance? Seriously, a group of people living in an attic for two years?” It just didn’t seem possible.
Admittedly, it was a shortsighted thought, given the subject matter and historical importance of the story, but that’s the first thing that popped into my head. But the more I thought about it, the more the idea intrigued me. Again, never having read the novel, I was quite interested in how the world of stage would be able to capture such a historically important work that takes place in such a small setting.
The normally expansive stage of the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center is purposefully downsized for this performance. The curtain was slightly drawn in at the sides. Set “scenery” – gray walls – encroached from the sides as well. On top of the “normal” stage was a smaller one where the rest of the props were placed and where the play took place. In the end, perhaps 1/4 to 1/3 of the stage was actually used for the performance. Immediately, before the show even began, you felt the closeness and lack of space. Once the actors were on the set, up to 10 at one time, the cramped conditions in which the Frank family lived were easily received. It seemed as if no one could move anywhere without having to walk around another person or object. I am actually quite amazed that none of the actors tripped, stumbled or even fell off the stage while working in such close quarters. The blocking must have been a logistical nightmare.
The story begins at the end, Otto Frank returns to the place his family lived in for 2+ years and finds his daughter’s diary. He begins to read it from the beginning, and then the show starts in earnest. Anne Frank introduces herself and the back story is quickly laid out as to who the characters are and why they are in hiding.
From then on, the first act was nothing like I was expecting. I went into the performance thinking it was going to be quite heavy. I mean, it’s dealing with the Holocaust.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
While the Holocaust and the persecution of Jews is the reason Anne Frank’s life went the way it did, it is not the story itself. The show emphasizes the small every day events of life. It shows how a group of people, under incredible circumstances, live as normal a life as possible. A life filled with the same issues families deal with today - sibling spats, mother’s love, teenage angst, parenting worries, the first kiss, generational gaps, belief systems, love for life, and longing for peace.
And through it all, humor finds its way. The one thing I absolutely was not expecting with this performance was the humor. It was not roll in the aisles, side splitting laughter, but there was a constant comical thread that ran throughout the entire first act. I found the characters were making the same smart-alleck comments I would have made given similar conversations. And to me, that made it all the more real.
It didn’t take long before I was caught up in the story of these people living together as a family. The reason why they were there wasn't the issue. Yes, it fueled some of the interaction and the type of interaction, but the characters’ relationships with each other seemed always to be the focal point. It was a study of human relationships.
With the second act, things took a turn toward the more dramatic. The humor was not entirely gone, but it was far less prevalent. Anne has started entering adulthood as her actions and views of the world lose some of her earlier childlike innocence. Tension between characters intensifies, tempers flare, and the waiting for an impending doom of a capture that may or may not come visibly takes its toll on all the characters. Everything eventually volcanoes to a crisis point.
The last 10 seconds of the play, in my opinion, are as powerful as any I have seen. Part of that is the manner in which the director did it. Part of it lies in the story itself and the real history behind it. And part of it stems from the performance of the actors and actresses. It all came together in a singular moment that had me blinking back tears. Granted, I’m a bit of a softy, but still…
Overall, the play was a pleasant surprise. I was a bit leery heading into it, but the story and how it was done quickly removed from me any preconceived notions. I would highly recommend this play to anyone. I think the play could serve as an excellent history lesson for the young and old alike. In fact, at intermission, my wife and I were discussing how much our nine-year-old son would have not only enjoyed the performance, but learned some valuable lesons too. (And he would not have been the only child of that age there that evening… numerous boys and girls between the ages of 8-15 populated the audience.) Outwardly, the subject matter of this play doesn’t seem to lend itself as “family oriented.” But the crux of the story was about family, friendships, and living life.
And yes, I will now be reading The Diary of Anne Frank. I’ve already reserved my copy at the library.