Wendy Kesselman's PG-13 rated revision of Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1955 play, The Diary of Anne Frank, now playing at Raleigh Little Theatre, is a mixed bag at best. On the one hand, it incorporates new information about the title character's sexual awakening and troubled relationship with her mother that makes the present stage adaptation truer to the actual experience of the eight Jews hiding in the Secret Annex above Otto Frank's business in Amsterdam. On the other hand, it ends, inexplicably, on January 27, 1945, the day the Russian army finally liberated Auschwitz I, just in time to save Otto Frank but a few days to late for Peter Van Daan to survive.
Kesselman's utterly mawkish final scene, in which a wailing Otto Frank returns to the Secret Annex and completely breaks down while mourning the deaths of his wife and daughters and the four friends who shared 25 tense, claustrophobic months hiding in the Secret Annex, is not only totally uncharacteristic of Mr. Frank's character and public behavior but untrue to history as well. On January 27, 1945, Anne and Margot Frank and Peter Van Daan were still alive, although each of them only had a couple of months to live. Moreover, Otto Frank did not return to Amsterdam until June 3, 1945.
When RLT artistic director cast short, stout, and fully bearded Fred Corlett against type as tall, imperially thin, and mustachioed Otto Frank, he chose a fine actor, with an impressive emotional range; and Corlett does not disappoint even in the final, increasingly awkward scene in which his character completely loses the emotional control that the real Otto Frank always maintained.
By making Otto's wife, Edith Frank, even colder and more distant, playwright Wendy Kesselman allows her little but strident outbursts, usually when provoked by the latest bump in her rocky relationship with Anne. Kathleen Rudolph nevertheless manages to find the humanity in the role.
Irrepressibly high-spirited 13- to 16-year-old Anne Frank (Chloe Novak) completely overshadows her quiet, studious older sister Margot (Leigh Alstat). Indeed, in Kesselman's revision, Anne in person and in voiceover overshadows everyone and everything to the point that some of the other characters are barely developed. Middle-schooler Chloe Novak gives a remarkably charismatic and confident performance as Anne, and Leigh Alstat does her best to put some flesh on the skeletal character of Margot that Kesselman gives her.
Larry Evans and Jenny Anglum are good as Hermann and Petronella Van Daan, Otto Frank's grasping business associate and his temperamental wife, who desperately hangs on to her 17-year-old mink coat as a token of her former upper-middle-class status; and Jon Kakaley is charming as shy, sensitive 16-year-old Peter Van Daan, upon whom Anne develops the biggest crush.
In their brief moments in the spotlight, Amy Lynn Berenson and Mark Anthony Aman provide solid support as the Franks' Gentile helpers and former employees Miep Gies and Mr. Kraler; and Kent Parks, J. Scott Enroughty, and David Corlett add an air of menace as the dreaded Green Police who finally receive a tip that there are eight Jews hiding in the Secret Annex.
But Jerry Zieman steals the show with his highly amusing antics as Mr. Dussell, the prissy, finicky, high-strung dentist with whom Anne Frank must share a bedroom. Zieman is funny when he is not the center of attention — as he observes the action wordlessly, but with his sour facial expression and exasperated body posture expressing his disapproval as loudly as if he were shouting.
Unlike Wendy Kesselman's uneven script, the work of set and lighting designer Rick Young, costume designer Vicki Olson, and sound designer Ed Bodell is uniformly superb. Young's splendid multilevel set helps underscore the fear, tension, and claustrophobia of the Secret Annex. Young's naturalistic lighting and Olson's superlative recreations of 1940s fashions also enhance the production's visual appeal. And sound designer Ed Bodell does an outstanding job of punctuating the onstage action with snippets of wartime radio broadcasts (voiced by John Adams) and Chloe Novak's voiceovers in which she reads pertinent portions of Anne's famous diary.
Second Opinion: April 9th News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) preview by staff writer Orla Swift: http://www.newsobserver.com/features/wup/story/3498754p-3102809c.html [inactive 5/04].
Raleigh Little Theatre presents The Diary of Anne Frank Wednesday-Saturday, April 14-17 and 21-24, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 18 and 25, at 3 p.m. in RLT's Cantey V. Sutton Main Stage, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $13 Wednesday, $17 Thursday/Sunday, and $19 Friday-Saturday, except $11 student and senior rate for Sunday matinees and $5 Thursday Night Rush (for tickets purchased the day of performance). 919/821-3111. Note 1: Assistive listening devices are available for all performances, and all performances are wheelchair accessible. Note 2: On April 25th, RLT will provide audio description for those with visual disabilities. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/diary.htm [inactive 6/04]. RLT's Anne Frank Study Guide: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/diaryguide.pdf [inactive 6/04]. Anne Frank In The World, 1929-1945: Teacher Workbook: http://www.uen.org/utahlink/lp_res/AnneFrank.html [inactive 8/04]. Internet Broadway Database (Original Broadway Production, 1955-57): http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?ID=2533. Internet Movie Database (1959 Film): http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0052738/. Internet Broadway Database (Broadway Revival, 1997-98): http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?ID=4764. The Anne Frank Center, USA: http://www.annefrank.com/. The Anne Frank House: http://www.annefrank.nl/ned/default2.html [inactive 5/04]. U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum: http://www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/online/af/htmlsite/ [inactive 9/04]. Simon Wiesenthal Center: http://www.wiesenthal.com/.