The Berks-Mont News (http://www.berksmontnews.com)

ON STAGE: People’s Light presents ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’


By Frank Burd, For Digital First Media

Monday, March 5, 2018

Anne Frank was born in Germany in 1929, but when the Nazis took control of the country, her family moved to the Netherlands. Then the Nazis took over that country in the second year of World War II. With the persecution of the Jews in the Netherlands and to avoid extradition, the family hid in the attic over a store, for two years until they were discovered and shipped to a concentration camp.

In that attic, 13-year-old Anne Frank began writing in a diary she had received the month before they went into hiding. Discovered after the war, Anne’s diary provided an intimate look at the Frank family from 1942 until they were sent away in 1944. Translated into dozens of languages, it made its English debut in 1952 and was turned into a play and a movie a few years later.

The Peoples Light production has tried to universalize Anne’s story with multi-cultural casting, and has assembled a fine cadre of actors to do it, beginning with Brittany Anikka Liu, who portrays Anne. This amazing young woman of Chinese-American heritage, so fully embodies the young adolescent who is trying to make the best out of an otherwise harrowing experience. Portraying Anne as a thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen year old so convincingly, I was shocked to learn that she has a B.A. from college. Her performance as the young diarist is flawless.

In a much more understated performance, Mark David Kaplan is also superb as Anne’s father, Otto Frank. His wisdom and kindness in those difficult times, is softly understated, but equally powerful. Respected by all, he makes it clear that they must admit Mr. Dussel (Christopher Patrick Mullen) into their attic abode. Though they have limited food and a shortage of apace, Otto knows what must be done to help Dussel, who had to leave his Christian wife and find a safe hiding place. There are eight of them up there — the Franks, the van Daan family, and Dussel.

Because we know the outcome, we watch carefully to learn of their lives before they are carted away to the camps. But that is where the production weakens. There is surprisingly little tension. The actors seem to be going through the motions of living in a cramped space, but I never felt their anguish, their fear. Even the set itself is expansive. It feels like we are in a Marriott suite rather than the tight attic space that the men and women must share. As they heard reports on the radio of the conditions outside, there was no angst. Perhaps director David Bradley was trying to create as “normal” a life as he could for these prisoners of war, but I found this classic story to be a bit sanitized.

As for the adaptation by Wendy Kesselman, I appreciated the additions she reinserted from the original diary that had been removed by Otto Frank. Her material included the information about the strained relationship between Anne and her mother. It dealt with Anne’s burgeoning sexuality and her desires regarding the van Daan son, Peter (Tyler S. Elliott). They added to the honesty of such a complex work.

The audience gave it a standing ovation. I applaud the play. I appreciated the fine performances from the leads. But I came away wishing for a bit more.

IF YOU GO

Peoples Light and Theatre Company, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, PA 19355. For tickets call 610-644-3500 or visit www.peopleslight.org. The production is on stage through March 31, 2018.