I’ve read “The Diary of Anne Frank,” seen the movie and stage versions of the tragic story about 13-year-old Holocaust victim Anne Frank and her family, but never felt so moved as I was last week, watching 14-year-old Beverly star Zehava Younger portray the bubbly, doomed youngster at Boston Children Theatre’s (BCT) production.
Younger tackles her role with the youthful enthusiasm of an unbridled, impetuous girl who finds good in everyone, creates happiness in the darkest circumstances, and rejoices in life, however compromised. Portraying Anne Frank is a gargantuan feat, but Younger rises to her task with such zest and love of life, she’s the uncanny reincarnation of Anne.
The Boston Children’s Theatre production is in honor of the 70th anniversary of Anne Frank’s death, but also a celebration of how her spirit lives on, through her optimistic diary writings, and the glimmer of light she sparked during history’s darkest era.
Irrepressible set designer Janie Howland has recreated an amazing tri-level set that rivals the authentic crowded hiding space where Anne; her older sister Margot, (Isabelle Luongo); parents Otto (Alex Hanscom) and Edith (Kira Shannon); friends Mr and Mrs. Van Daan (Charlestown’s Kevin Paquette, Jamaica Plain student, Shayna Bredbeck); their shy, teen-age son, Peter (Jake Orozco-Herrman); and hypochondriac Jewish dentist Mr. Kraler (Owen Sherrin) were forced to live for more than 1-1/2 years, behind the walls of Frank’s business establishment in Amsterdam.
Sound designer Alex Diesz-Kest’s terrifying, shrill sirens, gunshots, explosions, and street sounds, along with John Malinowski’s swirling lights, Gestapo spotlights, and subtle lighting indicating day and nighttime in the cluttered quarters, send chills up one’s spine.
This version isn’t about Nazi genocide and horror, though. It captures a moment in time, how two families and a hypochondriac dentist were forced to live together in tight quarters, fed and supported by the kindness of a non-Jewish neighbor, Miep Gies. Portsmouth teen-ager Elle Shaheen, another bright rising star, portrays Gies, with an innate sympatico underscoring the Amsterdam young woman’s kindness and humaneness, endangering her own life if the Nazis discovered her hiding Jews..
BCT Executive Artistic Director-Director Burgess Clark has an eagle eye for finding extraordinary talent and inspiring young actors such as Younger, Shaheen, and this marvelous cast.
There are so many wonderful scenes, from Anne’s mischievous playfulness and teasing, her resentment, yet love towards her “perfect” older sister and mother, to tender, loving scenes with her father, and her growing flirtation and friendship with Peter.
In a poignant moment, the group celebrates Chanukah, singing holiday prayers, like “Rock of Ages,” and Anne surprises everybody by giving them gifts she fashioned from almost nothing.
How terribly cruel their fate is. Shortly after hearing the Allied forces have landed and freedom is close at hand, they’re betrayed by somebody on the outside, raided, captured and transported to death camps by the Gestapo.
The play closes with a stunning, silent tribute to Anne. As a large black-and-white portrait of her unfurls, the prayer, “Kol Nidre,” resounds plaintively. And Anne’s voice rings in our ears. Despite her hardship, she says she knows there is still good in all people - a chilling, ironic anti-testament to man’s inherent evil.
BOX INFO: Boston Children’s Theatre presents Frances Goodrick and Albert Heckett’s two-act, stage adaptation of Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl,” adapted by Wendy Kesselman, at the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) Calderwood Pavilion, Wimberly Theatre, 427 Tremont St., South End, Boston: May 2, at 2,8 p.m. Tickets, $27. Call the Box Office at 617-424-6634, Ext. 222, or visit www.bostonchildrenstheatre.org.