With all remaining performances of The Diary of Anne Frank completed sold-out, they have added a Sunday 1/29 show at 7:00 pm. All tickets are just $20 (no discounts/special offers/coupons permitted). Please call the box office today at 972-450-6232 or purchase online at www.watertowertheatre.org
Attending a stage performance of The Diary of Anne Frank feels like participating in a purification ritual or a high Mass. Pretty much everyone knows the outcome and recognizes the cast of characters and how each will behave. So what is the stage adaptation’s appeal? How does it draw and hold attentive audiences, from grade school class productions to runs at professional venues? It’s not morbid curiosity that drives the fascination, the way people slow down and stare at a car accident blocking a highway lane. It has to be the attraction of Anne Frank’s indomitable courage and unflagging, sweet optimism in the face of hardship and impending discovery and death. Through her diary, Anne lives on in the hearts and imaginations of multiple generations, even after the Nazis put her to death at Bergen-Belsen. Who among us could match her brave spirit, if subjected to the same circumstance?
WaterTower Theatre opens its doors to 2012 with an inspirational mounting of this beloved classic. First adapted as a stage play from the originally published diary, in 1955, Wendy Kesselman revamped and expanded the work in 1997, after additional diary entries and new evidence of the experience surfaced. 1.5 million children perished in Hitler’s World War II Holocaust, a fact so grotesque and overwhelming it’s hard to imagine. Anne seems to embody the soul of all of the children so cruelly slaughtered in Hitler’s evil reign of terror.
Director Terry Martin guides his able cast in a simple, realistic, straightforward incarnation, never tugging on the audience heartstrings with calculated fervor, milking emotional response unfairly. He fosters naturalistic interplay that allows most characters to become comfortably familiar to the audience, like neighbors or close friends might. The audience gets drawn into the families’ everyday life routine so completely that when the Nazis burst in, they experience the shock and terror of the moment right along with the captured Jews on stage. No matter how intellectually prepared one may be, grief and horror wash away all reason. The audience weeps openly, some people uncontrollably. I carried my tears into the opening night reception afterwards, impossible to shake off for some time.
Some strong performances by WaterTower newcomers and regional notables dignify the show with dedication and skill. Molly Franco captures the timeless essence of the icon Anne Frank and brings her vividly to life as a temperamental, headstrong teenager. Jessica Renee Russell gives a strikingly moving performance as Anne’s fragile older sister Margot. Paul Taylor, Lucia A. Welch and Travis Trope fit beautifully together as the troubled Van Daan family, coping uneasily with circumstances beyond their control. Stan Graner finds all the right levels in his portrayal of Otto Frank, Anne’s father, the only member of the group to survive the Holocaust. His poignant, unhurried delivery of the play’s final monologue, solo on stage, a new addition in the Kesselman adaptation, blesses the performance with a benediction’s grace. He delivers the monologue with such utter sincerity that it seems like spontaneous expression, not lines in a play.
Director Martin and his cast work hard to overcome what still remains a wooden script. Some characters suffer from the clumsy writing, no matter the talent of the actor in the role. Miep Gies, played by Dana Schultes, barely undergoes any transformation across the play’s two acts in spite of what she experiences in war-torn Germany. (She’s the woman who hides the families and keeps them in supplies at great personal risk for years.) Emily Scott Banks feels out of place as Anne’s mother Edith, as written, minimally interacting with her family, mostly over-emotional with intense, disconnected outbursts. Ted Wold’s Mr. Dussel, the curmudgeonly dentist, offers promising conflict when first introduced then seems to almost fade into the background, as if abandoned by the adapter.The Nazis rush in at the final scene, waving their guns around needlessly. True menace gets generated well by stillness; the soldiers would not have needed to gesture wildly at their defenseless prisoners to convey their dire intentions, nor would they waste the energy. The cast uses the multilevel set well (Clare Floyd Devries design), but its uncluttered openness never quite conveys the claustrophobic cramped sense needed for the characters elbow-rubbing frustrations to play with potent veracity.
WaterTower Theatre produces The Diary of Anne Frank, adapted by Wendy Kesselman, in cooperation with community partner The Dallas Holocaust Museum Center for Education and Tolerance. May such openhearted partnerships and the spirit of Anne Frank inspire tolerance in all of us and remind us to work for a world where such evil as the Holocaust never happens again.
Performances run through January 29, 2012. www.WaterTowerTheatre.org
Box Office: 972.450.6232