‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ reveals pages worth re-reading
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There can be no finer reminder of the power of intimate spaces than the Writers Theatre production of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” the show now tucked into the back room of Glencoe’s Books on Vernon — the company’s original stage, and its current outpost during the construction of a grand new home a few blocks away.
In a sad but inspired evocation of the actual situation faced by Anne Frank and her family in the wake of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands — when they were forced to go into hiding in “the secret annex” on the top floor of the building where her father, Otto, ran a spice business — the audience even has to pass through the fabled door camouflaged as a bookcase that led into their attic rooms. (Applause for designer Jack Magaw’s set.)
‘THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK’
When: Through Aug. 2
Where: Writers Theater at Books on Vernon,
664 Vernon Ave., Glencoe
Tickets: $35 – $70
Info: (847) 242-6000;
Run time: 100 minutes with no intermission
Anne (the winningly unaffected Sophie Thatcher) — whose diary is probably the most famous document to have emerged from the Holocaust — was given her red and white plaid fabric-covered journal on her 13th birthday, by which time she was already a natural writer. The journal would be the ideal companion for this extroverted and urbane German-born Jewish girl who chronicled her life in confinement from June 12, 1942 to Aug. 1, 1944.
Three days after her last entry in the diary, the Franks’ hidden apartment was raided by the Nazis, and all eight inhabitants were hauled off to concentration camps. But Mipe Gies, the Dutch woman who is the true and ever self-effacing heroine of this story (played here by Leah Karpel, who has relatively few words, but whose face says all we need to know), managed to retrieve the notebook.
Had only the Frank family — Anne’s beloved father and favored parent, Otto (a wonderfully understated Sean Fortunato), mother Edith (Kristina Valada-Viars, whose face also is even more eloquent than her words), and gentle older sister Margot (exquisitely played by Lila Morse) — been confined to the apartment on Amsterdam’s Prinsengracht, it would have been difficult enough. For two years, while workers filled the lower floors of the building during the day, total silence and inactivity were the rule.
But about a month after moving in, the Franks were joined by the van Daans (Anne’s pseudonym for the actual van Pels family, including Mr. van Daan (Lance Baker), his wife, Auguste (Heidi Kettenring), and their 16-year-old son, Peter (Antonio Zhiurinskas), for whom Anne gradually develops a puppy love affection. And then comes the beleaguered dentist, Mr. Dussel (Kevin Gudahl), who only compounds the claustrophobia and raw nerves as Miep, and her associate, Mr. Kraler (Coburn Goss), risk their own lives to acquire the food and other necessities to keep those they are hiding alive.
The combination of terror, enclosure and a total lack of privacy certainly took its toll. You can see the situation at its worst in a scene in which Miep arrives with a cake that becomes a sort of Darwinian test. But there also are acts of immense poignancy and generosity, as when Anne somehow devises Chanukah gifts for each person in the apartment, and when Miep, so in tune with Anne’s adolescent blossoming, arrives with a pair of shoes to replace those she has outgrown.
Under Kimberly Senior’s direction (which uses the Wendy Kesselman adaptation of the original Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett script), this production starts off a bit slowly and stiffly, but gradually builds in intensity as it moves to its conclusion — a finale as devastating as it is inevitable.
History never repeats itself in exactly the same way. But all you need do is consider the events in Europe today to know that “The Diary of Anne Frank” remains not only a remarkable group portrait of human nature under the most extreme duress, but an invaluable cautionary tale as well.