Artists’ Collective Theatre’s The Diary of Anne Frank feels all too relevant in these days of fear and turmoil.
Written by Albert Hacket & Frances Goodrich, The Diary of Anne Frank dramatizes Anne Frank’s (Natalie Marshall) written account of her and her family’s two years spent hiding from Nazi persecution, as recorded in The Diary of A Young Girl. When Anne’s older sister Margot (Haylee Thompson) is ordered to report to a work camp, her father Otto (Brian Martell) removes the family from their home and places them into hiding inside an attic behind his company’s building. Joining the Frank family inside the tight, makeshift quarters are Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan (Owen Bishop, Kaleigh Richards) and their son Peter (Daniel Rousell). The families are aided by Miep Gies (Anastasia St. Amand) and Mr. Kraler (Jim Archibald) who visit every day in secret with rations and other supplies. A dentist named Albert Dussel (Ben Francis) joins the families months into their hiding, making life in the attic even more tense.
Between the hours of 8AM and 6PM, everyone must be absolutely silent as not to alert the workmen downstairs of their presence. (The workmen might report them to the authorities in exchange for a reward). Under no circumstance can anyone leave, even if they get sick. And all there is to do, besides the same activities day in and day out, is wait for the war to end. It’s unfathomable to even imagine living in such conditions, especially when news from the outside world seems to only worsen with time.
Much of the fascination around Anne’s story has not only to do with the history it documents, but the fact that she is an ordinary girl living in one of the darkest chapters in human history. Anne is ordinary in the sense that she adores film stars, fights with her mother Edith (Charlotte Loeppkey), and has all sorts of naive thoughts and questions about love. For no other reason than her religion is she forced to go into hiding with her family. Her story is a powerful and enduring reminder of the unjust nature of war and hate.
What makes ACT’s production particularly effective is the casting of young teens for the roles of Anne, Margot, and Peter. Director Amanda Liz Cutting notes that the choice to cast teens was made to bring authenticity to the show, remarking that older performers may not achieve the same level of innocence possible with young actors. The casting is smart given that this dramatization is not only about children thrown into the adult world, but their parents trying to stay strong in front of them. To see parents falter in front of their children, who look to them for answers, is made more impactful by the presence of actual youth.
On casting, Marshall is simply marvelous as Anne. The actress brings a soft maturity to the role that reminds us that Anne is just a teenager struggling to understand herself and other people while living in a time of great crisis. In Marshall’s performance, we see Anne go back-and-forth between an adolescent beyond her years to a child who doesn’t fully grasp the total gravity of the situation. Anne’s failure to read the situation is seen best in her strained relationship with Edith.
Loeppkey delivers an emotionally captivating performance as Edith, a woman worn out by the war, the Van Daans, and her constant fighting with Anne. Unlike her husband, Edith is just barely able to go on, admitting that she has had thoughts about giving herself up. In Loeppkey’s performance, we see Edith’s perseverance gradually crack and give way to complete desperation. At the same time, we also see how her family’s love energizes her. And so when her family is wronged by Mr. Van Daan, Edith’s total breakdown ignites the stage in one of the most powerful moments this season. Loeppkey deserves every ounce of praise coming her way from audiences lucky enough to catch her stunning performance during the production’s limited run.
All around, the cast does a formidable job animating Anne’s story, but unfortunately the same cannot be said for Cutting’s messy direction. The actors are frequently upstaged by background action and very loud stage whispering. The director seems almost uneasy with silence. Erik Hope’s multi-level set eats up a lot of the space available inside the West Village Theatre. The audience is very much right inside the attic with the actors, and so maybe the thought is that silence within that proximity would be strange. Regardless, the loud stage whispering is ultimately a major distraction.
Even still, the production manages to collect a pool of tears from the audience in its final moments.
With the recent terror attack in Brussels, ACT’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank hits hard on many levels. But what’s important to take away from this play is Anne’s belief that “in spite of everything…people are really good at heart.” Time again and again, the world sees outpouring of love and support for victims of terror. There is good in the world, even if it’s hard to believe it some days.
ACT Theatre’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank by Albert Frances & Frances Goodrich runs March 24 – April 2 at the West Village Theatre.
The roles of Anne Frank, Margot Frank, and Peter Van Daan will be played by different actors over the course of the production’s run.
Anne Frank: Natalie Marshall, Haylee Thompson, and Sadey Wild
Margot Frank: Jaclyn Collis, Natalie Marshall, and Haylee Thompson
Peter Van Daan: Daniel Rousell, Gabe Treleaven
For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.acttheatre.ca/events-2016/2016/3/24/diary-of-anne-frank-directed-by-amanda-liz-cutting