The markings on my forearm, imprinted when I entered the theater, remain, labeling me. At the end of the play, when I am leaving through the hall behind the theater, I witness a large pile of worn, heavily used shoes, piled haphazardly in a corner. Simply and effectively, these dramatic touches brought to mind the powerful emotional response felt at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Diary of Anne Frank, produced by the Prince William Little Theatre at the Hylton Art Center’s Gregory Theater, is a story of hope and despair, of community and courage, of coming-of-age, and fear. Where you might not expect to find it there is also, blessedly, innocence and love.
Set behind the offices where Otto Frank has worked in Amsterdam is the secret annex where the Frank family is hiding from the Nazis. Another Jewish family, the Van Danns, are to share the cramped space with the Franks until it is safe for them to emerge. Before long, they must take in Mr. Dussel, a grumpy dentist. There are also occasional brief visits by the heroic Meip, and Mr. Kraler, who help hide the Jews and provide food and news.
The space is an intriguingly non-realistic set, designed by Daniel Widerski, as wide but not deep. Partial walls are covered with huge paintings of the pages and photographs from Anne’s diary, which overlap and spill onto the floor. Various levels portray the different rooms, offering modest separation for the eight people who must live hidden in the cramped space. The bedroom of the Frank parents, and the bathroom are the only spaces that are not visible to the audience. The eight people sharing the annex must navigate over, around, and past each other physically and emotionally.
Director Scott J. Strasbaugh weaves his actors through the set with a deft hand. His compassion for Anne and for the play are clearly portrayed in his choices and pacing. A favorite moment of mine was the choice to leave all the actors onstage during the intermission, silently playing out their lives. The vital recognition that they were continuously trapped in this space is reinforced. Strasbaugh has chosen to direct the new adaptation by Wendy Kesselman of the play written by Francis Goodrich and Albert Hackett, which is based on the iconic Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.
Acting was strong across the board, reflecting the gravitas of the story. Of particular strength was Lucia LaNave as Anne, who nicely portrays the youthful exuberance of a girl who can find an adventure in a forced uprooting; then switch between teen angst, anger at a parent, and confusion/elation with her first romantic emotions. As Petronella Van Dann, Gayle Nichols-Grimes, is also wonderful. Her range includes bluster, blow-ups, snootiness, longing, fear, compassion, and empathy; surprising me frequently while playing the character honestly.
For the acting, the story-telling, the spectacle, and most importantly, for the reminder of the importance and beauty of this play’s message, I recommend seeing this production.
Running Time: 2 hour 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.
The Diary of Anne Frank plays through October 29, 2017, at The Prince William Little Theatre performing in the Gregory Theatre in The Hylton Performing Art Center on the George Mason University campus — 10960 George Mason Circle in Manassas, VA. Tickets may be purchased at the box office or online.