There are some pieces of theater that elicit such raw emotion that describing the experience properly is next to impossible. Reston Community Players’ production of The Diary of Anne Frank, newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman from the play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett which was based upon Anne Frank’s diary, is one.
Gloria DuGan has done an incredible job directing this play, which takes place in the one room the Franks and their companions call home for over two years, while in hiding. Maggie Modig’s set design is realistic and modest: the group had to share one water closet and sleeping quarters were tiny, but a common room area with a table and chairs is the focal point for most of the scenes. Lighting design by Franklin Coleman isolates moments when Anne is narrating the story, or private scenes take place in the attic or bedrooms.
Sophia Manicone plays Anne, who is 13 at the start of the play. Her initial innocence and naiveté, and ability to maintain her youthful optimism amidst such hardship, makes Anne one of the most beloved figures in history. The child is far from faultless, but she is brimming with good intentions, and the honest desire to experience joy and love.
Anne has constant ups and downs as she struggles with the fear of death and the loss of friends, while also reveling in the changes her body is going through as an adolescent. Manicone embodies this journey beautifully, conveying the maturity and personal transformation that she experiences as a young teenager and taking Anne from a precocious 13-year-old to a vivacious young woman by the end of the play.
The only known survivor of the Frank family, Otto Frank (Michael Kharfen), has a touching relationship with his youngest daughter. Anne affectionately refers to Otto as “Pim” and he dotes on her, encouraging her to express herself in her uniqueness.
Kharfen portrays Otto as the dedicated family man and unflinchingly affectionate father to Anne and her sister, Margot (Madison Chase). He is devoted to his children’s education and generous to all, with his time and energy. While our view of Otto is through Anne’s eyes, who loved him above all else, it is easy to see that Mr. Frank is the glue that binds the household together, with his good-natured attitude and endless capacity for kindness and compassion.
As a self-proclaimed “chatterbox,” Anne does not always get along with everyone in the Annex, but what can be expected of a teenager in close quarters with eight people? Mr. Van Daan, played by Michael Sherman, butts heads with Anne more often than not, and his character can be unforgiving and harsh. But Sherman’s genuine struggle with the stresses of their situation, his desire to protect his family, and the strain of pride that the war has put him in makes his character instantly absolved for his outbursts.
Another source of Van Daan’s anxiety is his wife (Lorraine Magee). Magee and Sherman have a chemistry that feels right out of “The Honeymooners” with a constant nagging and annoyance that can only be outdone by their genuine love for one another.
And then there is their son, Peter (Logan Matthew Baker), the subject of Anne’s initial teases, which later blooms into a young romance. Baker is quiet and shy, a stark contrast to most of the members of the household, and never sees eye to eye with his father.
Anne too struggles with getting along with her mother (Judy Lewis). She feels constantly compared to her perfect sister, Margot, and unable to connect with Mrs. Frank. Lewis stood in for Mrs. Frank when the original cast member had an unexpected accident, and deserves kudos for pulling off the role with just one day of rehearsal.
Basic family dynamics and home-life struggles are central to this play. The very relatability of what these eight people endure allows the audience to absorb their story in a way that cannot be done with descriptions in a history book.
Mr. Dussel, played by Steven Palkovitz, is a dentist and describes how misunderstood they are, lamenting that no one likes going to a dentist. Mrs. Van Daan fantasizes about taking a nice warm bath. And Anne longs for that special someone that she can confide in. All of their human desires do not get stripped away, simply because their possessions, freedom, and identity are.
The group’s helpers Miep (Jessi Shull) and Mr. Kraler (Earle Greene) are responsible for providing them with rations, books, and a link to the outside world. The war goes on as the family wastes away in the Annex, but they struggle to hold on to hope and attempt to enjoy their limited lives and appreciate their good fortune of being safe, rather than in camps.
The Diary of Anne Frank is an amazing piece of theater and Reston Community Players’ production brings to life these extraordinarily ordinary characters that Anne Frank so brilliantly chronicled.
The play is over two hours long but the time is not felt. The show moves quickly with compelling material and an outstanding cast. One might assume the play to be a real downer, but the audience instead leaves moved, inspired, and hopeful.
As Director Gloria DuGan points out, the rise in anti-Semitism and racial intolerance today makes looking back at these rare snapshots of history necessary for the sake of posterity and for the future of humanity. In a society where we are doomed to repeat that which we cannot remember, a little girl’s day-to-day accounts which fluctuate between commonplace and the stuff of nightmares, remind us powerfully of the human element of history.
And despite the brutal truth of the evil people are capable of, we can cherish the words of a young girl who withstood the hatred and horror in one of the darkest times in human history but still managed to write: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission.
The Diary of Anne Frank plays through March 14, 2020, presented by the Reston Community Players at the Reston Community Center, 2310 Colts Neck Road, Reston, VA. For tickets, call 703-476-4500 or go online.
Francis Kosciesza, Dutch Nazi; Kevin Carrington, Dutch Nazi; Ian Mark Brown, Gestapo
Jessica Carrington, Stage Manager; Kevin Carrington, Assistant Stage Manager; Tom Geuting, Master Carpenter/Special Effects; Sandy Dotson, Set Decorations; Dan Moses Schreier, Original Sound Designer; Stan Harris, Production Sound Designer; Mary Jo Ford, Properties Design & Acquisition; Judy Whelihan, Costume Design & Construction; Kat Brais, Hair & Makeup