The Pulitzer Prize (and Tony Award) winning play “The Diary of Anne Frank” was a big hit at the Arctic Playhouse last Sunday before a sold out crowd of loyal fans. Complimentary popcorn, cookies, and friendly faces made the decision to spend a sunny afternoon indoors all the easier.
Based on the famous diary, the play begins with Anne and her family preparing to go into hiding in a secret apartment behind her father’s business in German-occupied Amsterdam in 1942. Anne’s older sister, Margot, had just received a letter ordering her to report to a work camp, prompting the move. The Franks, as well as family friends and associates who are hidden in the annex, will remain here until they are discovered and sent to concentration camps in 1944. Only Anne’s father, Otto Frank, will survive.
Anne Frank was 13 years old when she went into hiding and actress Isabelle Assaf never lets you forget it. Assaf’s interpretation of Anne is so youthful and pure, jubilant and hopeful, honest and devastating — so authentically teenager. Anne loves her father, resents her mother, looks up to her older sister, develops a crush on Peter (a boy whose family joined them in the annex), and systematically annoys and garners love from everyone she’s around. Among criticism of her carefree attitude, Anne states, “I don’t want to be dignified. I just want to have fun.” Assaf gives you the complexity of Anne. She plays her young but not naive. When Assaf states, “We can’t go outside. We can’t even look out a window,” you feel the sadness and frustration alongside her as she comes to terms with her reality.
Stage Director Rachel Hanauer draws the crowd into Anne’s world with the support of set designer Robert (Joe) Welch and costuming by Nancy Spirito. Hanauer creates an environment that is truly overwhelming, perfectly encapsulating the tension of eight people having to live shoulder to shoulder, confined and quiet, for two years.
The playgoers were visibly uncomfortable as they bore witness to the anxiety developing on stage. In the annex the Franks were joined by the van Pels, known by Anne as the “Van Daans”. Katherine Kimmel (Petronella) , Bob Mignarri (Putti), and Jonah Coppolelli (Peter), portrayed a family coming undone, acting charismatically and in chosen moments, excessively, to successfully convey how emotions unravel and peak under horrific duress. Coppolelli played Peter as charmingly awkward and stuttering. His stellar performance communicated growth in maturity as Peter went from ill-tempered to empathetic and totally infatuated with Anne. What’s not to like?
Arctic Playhouse veteran Jeff Blanchette played Fritz Pfeffer, known as Albert Dussel in Anne’s diary, as an eccentric, high strung hypochondriac who was afraid of everything and annoyed by Anne. The stress of each relationship was precipitated by living in such close proximity to one another for years, and Anne and Albert’s in particular was difficult and strained from the onset, continuing until they were discovered.
In a performance that’s meant to convey high tension and emotion in the most extraordinary, dire circumstances, it’s the quiet moments that are often the most effective. Aden Duffy, who played Margot Frank, was such a highlight, acting with her entire body and delivering lines in a refreshingly unaffected way. During many scenes I found myself watching Duffy, who had minimal speaking lines, to experience the scene through her facial expressions alone.
With many memorable performances to choose from, it was Christopher Ferreira’s closing monologue that shined brightest. Otto Frank lost his entire family to concentration camps. Ferreira’s vulnerability in this moment breaks your heart as you witness the retelling of his devastating loss which is particularly difficult as Otto was the pillar. He remained strong throughout difficult moments and unceasingly loving and understanding amid madness. Ferreira is at his best when he takes the act out of acting and leads with his heart.
Wendy Kesselman’s striking adaptation for a new generation cannot be missed. Click here for details on upcoming performances.
WhatsUpRI Rating: 4 out of 5
WhatsUp Ratings Guide
5- Excellent – Don’t miss it
4- Very Good – Well worth your time
3- Good – Solid, but not earthshattering
2- Fair – Not quite ready for prime time
1- Poor – Don’t waste your time or money