More than seven decades have passed since the publication of “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.” Her journal continues to be a heartbreaking reminder of the tragedy and atrocities of the Holocaust.
While not a family play in the traditional sense, Moxie Theatre’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank is meant to be an impactful story that adults and younger students can experience together. Overall, Kym Pappas’ version touchingly honors the lives of Anne and the people closest to her.
After the start of World War II, German-Jewish teenager Anne Frank and her family hide from the Nazis in the secret annex of an Amsterdam building. Along with her parents and sister, she lives there with several other Jews, including a business associate of Anne’s father, Mr. Van Daan (Jonathan Sachs), and a dentist, Mr. Dussel (Joe Paulson). They do everything possible to survive and not succumb to fear.
Instead of being told just through Anne’s perspective, Wendy Kesselman’s adaptation of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s original script is really an ensemble effort. Anne’s parents, Otto (Eddie Yaroch) and Edith (Wendy Waddell), Mr. Dussel, Mr. Van Dann, his wife (Holly Stephenson), and their son Peter (Nick Lux), are given a good amount of stage time.
That being said, the writing doesn’t relegate Anne to the sideline. Her journey into young adulthood still plays an important part of the play.
One facet of the performance, directed by Kym Pappas, that will take a while for some to warm up to, is the manner in which the performers talk. Following the adapter’s suggestion, the cast refrains from using German or Dutch accents.
As Kesselman wrote in her adaptation, “the effect of such accents is not to enhance authenticity but to diminish it.”
What makes this choice work are the truthful emotions from the leads. Katz makes Anne a not-always- considerate teenager, and the early scenes don’t shy away from her flawed behavior. Yet, Anne becomes increasingly likable as she grows up.
Waddell and Yaroch powerfully depict the ways that Anne’s parents handle the horrors happening around them. She expresses Edith’s fears for the worst while he allows Otto to be a hopeful man whose calmness doesn’t always mask his personal stress.
With 13 cast members, Pappas’ affecting interpretation includes the most amount of actors in any show at the Moxie this year. Perkins, Sachs, Stephenson, Lux and Paulson give affecting portrayals of people who try to maintain fulfilling lives despite their circumstances.
Tension inevitably arises from the fact that the families in The Diary of Anne Frank are never really safe. Everyone hiding in the secret annex is aware of their own mortality and danger, and realize that their lives can crumble at any moment.
As far as visuals and audio details are concerned, the creative and technical team richly contributes to a representation of 1940’s Amsterdam. Jennifer Brawn- Gittings’ costumes and Lily Voon’s incorporation of sound clips of Adolf Hitler and BBC News provide a realistic atmosphere of the time period.
Sean Fanning’s set appears larger than it actually is, mainly because of the way the cast handles the space. This particularly comes across during the intermission, when various activities take place, such as a card game and a dental appointment between Mrs. Van Daan and Mr. Dussel.
Perhaps the most important accomplishment of The Diary of Anne Frank is that the play portrays and humanizes a terrible period of history. An effective way for important stories to leave an impression is to make sure that people are able to connect with the happenings and individuals from different decades.
All the residents of the annex come across as decent human beings who don’t deserve their trials and the fate awaiting them.
Pappas allows her interpretation to work as both a plot about maturity and an important history lesson that’s still impactful today. Although there is no shortage of heartbreak in the piece, it’s a story that needs to be shared for many years to come.