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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Diary of Anne Frank
Arizona Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Rock of Ages and Les Misérables


Steve Hendrickson and Anna Lentz
Photo by Tim Fuller
In a world where our President and his followers continually talk about and act upon removing people from our country who they feel don't belong, the classic, factual drama The Diary of Anne Frank is not only incredibly relevant but also a potent reminder of how thoughts and decisions like those harshly impacted millions of people during World War II, including the small group of Jews the show focuses on who lived in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Arizona Theatre Company's production, under David Ira Goldstein's taut and emotionally infused direction, has an exemplary cast who bring this heartbreaking tale vibrantly to life.

Anne and her family were Jews who lived in Amsterdam and went into hiding in 1942 with another family in the attic space above Anne's father's factory. Hiding was the only way to hope to possibly avoid ending up in the concentration camps. While the people in the shop work during the day, the family members hiding above must remain completely still. Only at night, when the workers are gone and there is no risk of a strange noise upstairs causing trouble, are they able to achieve some sense of normalcy. We witness the frayed emotions of eight people living in very close quarters with the constant fear of being discovered, adding to the heightened dramatic intrigue of the piece.

The play covers the two-year time period they lived in the attic and is based on "The Diary of a Young Girl," the journal Anne kept when she was 13 and in hiding and which was published shortly after her death. The fact that, I believe, the majority of people seeing this play are already aware of what happened to Anne makes all of the moments we witness of the humor in the piece, the close family bonds we see portrayed, and the hopes they aspire to achieve once liberation comes only that much more heartbreaking.

Originally written in 1955 by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, the drama was further adapted by Wendy Kesselman in 1997 to add elements to the play that Anne's father thought best to originally leave out of the diary. Those entries, which reveal Anne's harsh thoughts about her mother and her feelings on her budding post-pubescent sexuality, have been restored in Kesselman's version and further flesh out the character of this young girl and the heightened emotions of her story.

David Ira Goldstein's direction is infused with an abundance of tension but also many moments that realistically portray the bickering, quarreling and love these family members exhibit. His cast all achieve natural portrayals. The joy the characters get from such small, simple things as spice cake, cigarettes, or a library book are beautifully directed against the harsh reality of the situation they are in but also the hope that the war will end soon and their lives will go back to normal.

Anna Lentz delivers a beautiful portrayal of Anne. Adventurous, energetic and rambunctious at first, Lentz does well to portray the 13-year-old girl who is often dramatic and precocious but blossoms into a young woman as the time in the attic stretches from days to months to years. While there isn't one false move in her performance, Lentz is a college graduate so, at times, she doesn't quite look like a young teenage girl. That is the only small fault I have in an otherwise commanding performance.

As Otto Frank, Anne's father, Steve Hendrickson is warm yet stern, and he beautifully portrays the realist of the piece. We clearly see in his performance that Otto is also trying to remain positive, especially for his two young daughters. His final monologue is very effectively delivered, with firm yet even measured tones and many moments of silence that allow us to absorb the horrific details we hear. It is a stunning ending and a powerful performance.

Naama Potok does lovely work as Edith Frank, Anne's mother, the calm woman who is the voice of reason and who also has to deal with Anne's often harsh treatment. Devon Prokopek is excellent as Anne's quiet, introspective sister Margot. I saw Prokopek just a few years back in Biloxi Blues at Desert Stages so it's great to see a local young woman featured in such a prominent role at ATC. John G. Preston and Ann Arvia do very good work as the always bickering and argumentative Van Daans, the family that shares the space with the Franks, and Gus Cuddy is warm and likable as their son Peter. As Mr. Dussell, the dentist who also goes into hiding with the families, Michael Santo paints the picture of the perfect pessimist.

Scenic designer Bill Clarke delivers a beautiful two-story portrayal of the attic, with see-through walls and doors which allows the action in every room to be easily seen. Mimi Maxmen's costumes are period perfect and Ann G. Wrightson's lighting is appropriate for the various times of day as well as the shifts in tone. Dan Roach's sound design includes strange noises, sirens, and other outside noises, all of which are shocking, since any of them could mean the eight people in hiding will be discovered. Goldstein's decision to use the sound of train car doors slamming at various times throughout the show while at the same time the light on the back scrim constantly decreases as if to say that time is running out and the walls are closing in may be a bit too obvious. But it so perfectly ties into the many trains that were continually shuttling Jews off to the concentration camps that it ends up being a perfect creative decision.

The Diary of Anne Frank is a deeply engaging, taut, suspenseful and moving yet ultimately sad and depressing story of lost hope and the unspeakable consequences of Hitler's rise to power. While it may be heartwrenching, Arizona Theatre Company's production is an ultimately beautiful tribute to Anne, her family, and the millions of others that lost their lives in the Nazi death camps.

The Diary of Anne Frank, through June 3rd, 2018, for Arizona Theatre Company, at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street, Phoenix AZ. Tickets can be purchased at www.arizonatheatre.org or by calling 602-256-6995.

Director: David Ira Goldstein
Scenic Designer: Bill Clarke
Costume Designer: Mimi Maxmen
Lighting Designer: Ann G. Wrightson
Sound Designer: Dan Roach

Cast:
Anne Frank: Anna Lentz*
Otto Frank: Steve Hendrickson*
Edith Frank: Naama Potok*
Margot Frank: Devon Prokopek*
Peter Van Daan: Gus Cuddy*
Mrs. Van Daan: Ann Arvia*
Mr. Van Daan: John G. Preston*
Mr. Dussel: Michael Santo*
Mr. Kraler: Harold Dixon*
Miep Gies: Brenda Jean Foley*
First Man: Drake Sherman
Second Man: Ricky Quintana
Third Man: Nicolas Holguin

*Members of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.


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