Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Diary of Anne Frank"

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entire contents copyright 1997 by Larry Stark


"The Diary of Anne Frank"

by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
Newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman
Directed by James Lapine

Set Design by Adrianne Lobel
Lighting Design by Brian MacDevitt
Costume Design by Martin Pakledinaz
Sound Design by Dan Moses Schreier
Hairstyles & Wigs by Paul Huntley
Production Stage Manager David Hyslop

Anne Frank..........................Natalie Portman
Otto Frank.............................George Hearn
Edith Frank...........................Sophie Hayden
Margot Frank...........................Rachel Miner
Miep Gies...........................Jessica Walling
Mr. Kraler...........................Philip Goodwin
Mr. Van Daan...........................Harris Yulin
Mrs. Van Daan...........................Linda Lavin
Peter Van Daan......................Jonathan Kaplan
Mr. Dussel.........................Austin Pendleton
First Man..............................Peter Kybart
Second Man............................James Hallett


"The Diary of Anne Frank" has not had its press-opening yet, but it is that rare thing: a straight play trying-out at the Colonial Theatre here in Boston before opening in New York. The dozen actors, their Director James Lapine, the seven producers, are not here hoping someone like Eliot Norton will tell them, in print or over coffee, how to make it a hit. Every night they will pay minute attention to the only critics that really matter: the incredibly intelligent Boston audience. That audience, Thursday night, gave it the ultimate compliment a serious play can earn --- a hushed, tear-stained instant of silence before applauding the curtain-calls.

The Frances Goodrich - Albert Hackett script, even newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman, shouldn't sound so new. High schools have been using Anne Frank's diary as a standard text for decades; tourists flock to Amsertdamto visit the actual attic the book was written in; and the play itself long ago won a Tony and a Pulitzer. Everyone knows Jews were exterminated and Anne Frank died. What is new is seeing these people come vibrantly, humanly alive every night on that stage.

Adrianne Lobel's two-story set, with fading walls and unpainted beams, recreates the cramped pressure-cooker in which eight people spent two years trying to maintain total silence every day until six p m, trying to mesh their conflicting personalities, living for the hope that peace would give their lives back to them.

The eight are mostly famous actors shedding their familiar selves. George Hearn is the solid, compassionate father Otto Frank, and Sophie Hayden his strained worried wife Edith. Harris Yulin and Linda Lavin are the richer, more worldly Van Daans, and Austin Pendleton is the prickly outsider Mr. Dussel the dentist. Jonathan Kaplan is the Van Daans' awkward adolescent son Peter, and Rachel Miner the Frank's older, quieter daughter Margot.

But of course the center of this story is Anne, the impetuous, impertinent thirteen-year-old scribbler on the brink of a life brimming with promise and possibilities. The straight-legged, fresh-faced girl pirouetting centerstage is not much older than Anne herself. Natalie Portman's professional bio lists nothing but six movies --- one of which hasn't even been released. Whatever stage plays she may have done seem not worth mentioning --- if they exist at all. And let us admit that the sound design by Dan Moses Schreier makes it unnecessary for her or anyone else to fill the Colonial Theatre with vocal expertise alone. Others in the cast defer to her at center stage not simply because she is the eponymous star of this play, but more importantly because at her young age she can take center-stage, and hold center-stage in the midst of a cast who by experience and expertise all must be her betters. In a sense, it is their focus on her that makes her shine.

With George Hearn she is a relaxed, confiding princess, with Sophie Hayden a rejecting, wounding daughter. She flirts with Jonathan Kaplan, confesses to Rachel Minor, goads and needles Austin Pendleton, aggravates and annoys Harris Yulin and Linda Lavin. Her storms and yearnings and dancing brim with an eagerness for life that edges every little comment on the future with an echo of irony.

The world outside their attic enters in narrations and radio broadcasts, in visits from Jessica Walling as the sainted Miep Gies and Philip Goodwin as Mr. Kraler who owns the building, bringing books and food, and finally by James Hallett and Peter Kybart whose drawn pistols bring Nazi curses, deportation and death. But, despite George Hearn's epilog documenting the destruction of Otto Frank's family and friends, it is their life that this play celebrates.

Love,
===Anon.

"The Diary of Anne frank" (till 16 November)
COLONIAL THEATRE
106 Boylston Street, BOSTON
1(617)426-9366
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