Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Diary of Anne Frank by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett – Newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman

L - R Jessica Richards, Georgan George, Valerie Rose Lohman, Jack Kandel

By Joe Straw

“In 1972, he stood there, quietly, in front of all of us.  He was a dapper middle-aged farmer in a vest and had a small red carnation in the buttonhole of his sports jacket.  His worn brown shoes appeared too large for his feet and his belt had seen better days. He called Bastone, Belgium his home as he began his story.

The war had been going on for far too long in the late spring of 1944 and the Allies were nowhere in sight.  

He said his father, unexpectedly, sent him out to plow the fields.  He knew it was too late to be tiling the soil but his father insisted. And he grumbled all the while questioning his father’s wisdom. 

He was nearly finished plowing when he heard transport planes first and then looked up and saw hundreds of allied paratroopers appearing like dots in the sky.  The young Germans soldiers, noticing the same thing, started to run. 

And then something triggered an overwhelming emotion in his esse and the man started to cry, remembering thirty years earlier and coming to grips with his father’s motives. 

He did not know it then but his father had risked both of their lives - to be found out meant being shot as spies. Still, they did this in preparation of the allied invasion and to assist the paratroopers to land on soft soil. 

War memories never die.” - Narrator

Wasatch Theatrical Ventures (WTV) presents The Diary of Anne Frank by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett – newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman, directed by Mark Belnick, and produced by Racquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners at the NoHo Arts Center – through August 25, 2013. It is a fine production with wonderful performances.

Adam Haas Hunter, the Set Designer, fills a tiny marvelous space with the essential living quarters of the Franks.  The beds and couch are supported by a finite number of grey books. It is a wonderfully symbolic visual of Hunter’s intention to show the Frank’s cherished the written word.

Shannon Kennedy, the Costume Designer, has done a remarkable job completing the costuming visuals of that period.  

The Diary of Anne Frank is a holograph of a frightening and disturbing look at humans confined in a very small place, living with their idiosyncrasies, waiting out the war, and away from the prying and arresting eyes of the Gestapo.

In this play, the not-so-perfect Anne Frank, (Valerie Rose Lohman), brilliant and inexperience in the ways of her human experience, doesn’t understand the predicament of their lives.  She thinks the hiding is going to be fun.

“Like being on vacation in some strange pension or something. An adventure – romantic and dangerous at the same time!”  - Anne

Her father Otto Frank, (Jack Kandel), understands the nature of war – having served in the German army during World War I. He hides his family, especially his daughter Margot, (Jessica Richards) fearing for her life.  

“You couldn’t let your daughter be taken away, Mr. Frank.” – Mr. Kraler

This is Anne’s perception of her sister Margot’s (Jessica Richards) predicament.

“Are you all right, Margot?” – Anne

“I’m still shaking.  Feel my hands.” – Margot

“Don’t worry.  We’re here now.   They can’t take you away.” - Anne

Peter Van Daan (Nick Reilly) expectedly arrives with a cat to wait out the war in the attic.  But his parents Mr. Van Daan (Warren Davis) Mr. Frank’s business partner, and his wife Mrs. Van Daan (Susan Priver) were almost lost. They arrived later and were nearly caught by the police.

They settle down to their internment in the attic as they try to co-exist when Meip (Mindy Barker) tells them a dentist, Mr. Dussel (Shelly Kurtz), wants to go into hiding. Mr. Frank immediately says yes but forgets he has a business partner Mr. Van Daan and consults with him before the decision is made.  

“Those last hours are the most dangerous for a Jew going into hiding.” - Anne

Seeing this on opening night, I was fascinated by the excellent storytelling under Mark Belnick’s direction with only minor deviations that did not serve the play’s purpose. Whether the characters ever come together in a fighting cohesive spirit remains to be seen. Belnick has the actors waging a battle of an entirely different war of emotional and physical confinement. Whether that was his intention or the result of limited rehearsal time remains to be seen.  With more performances under their belt and in front of an audience, the production should gel quite magnificently.

This otherwise newly adaptation of Wendy Kesselman’s 1997 play is effective in purpose and overall is a strong production. The odd thing about this play is the strong emotional pull was from Mrs. Van Daan’s character and not Anne.  Still this night pushed emotional buttons, as was intended, and the cast was exceptional barring a few missed opportunities. And I do have a few notes.

Valerie Rose Lohman (seated on floor) L- R Georgan George, Jack Kandel, Jessica Richards, Steven Scot Bono, Shelly Kurtz, Mindy Barker, Warren Davis, Susan Priver, Nick Reilly

Mindy Barker plays Miep Gies nicely.  She is the Dutch caretaker and does her best to provide for the families living in the attic. Gies should not accept the fur coat so easily.  Doing so would only provide more information to those who have eyes on the outside. She has three sources of conflict at this moment, the wife, the husband, and the Gestapo.  Not to mention the internal conflict.  

Steven Scot Bono plays Mr. Kraler a sympathetic man trying his best to hide the Frank family. He is also the Aryan business partner to Otto Frank.  Kraler’s relationship with Margot should be stronger. And Kraler should be more adamant about getting the Frank family out of the attic once they have been found out and really take no for an answer when he begins the process of paying bribes.  I found his work exceptional.

Warren Davis is Putti Van Daan a man who cares for his cigarettes first, his wife second, and little or nothing for his son. He is out for his welfare or so it appears until the time he defends his family.  The moment when he defends his son is not accentuated and lost.  Davis needs to find a stronger and creative objective to help him over the rough spots and develop the relationship with his business partner.  But overall Davis has a nice look and does some excellent work. 

Georgan George does a nice turn as Edith Frank, the mother with emotional problems.  And who could blame her given the crises of her predicament.  She sees this act of hiding as an unsuitable endeavor and she is disturbed by the dreams that plague her as well.  She does not get along with her second born, Anne.  Still she will do anything to help her in their predicament. This is a character with a lot of strength despite her frailties and George does a nice job.     

Jack Kandel plays Otto Frank the patriarch of the family.  He understands rule and order being a former military officer.  But these are not soldiers under his control.  They are civilians.  And the part of the battle he wages is with a foe, the Gestapo that is listening right outside his attic door. Frank’s actions to placate everyone works well in most cases. Still, he needs to use his military experience and business acumen when moments get out of control. Kandel’s performance was marvelous and nicely accomplished.

Shelly Kurtz plays Mr. Dussel and his entrance was superb.  His character is the last to join the Frank family and they appear not to not completely trust the dentist with their oldest daughter. So they stick him in the same room with their youngest. Dussel is a naughty character that creates so much friction the others want to run out of their place of hiding.  Kurtz does a fine job.  

Valerie Rose Lohman plays Anne Frank  - someone who is slightly older than Anne. This was not a sympathetic portrayal of a character written with warts and all.  Still, Lohman should relax, let the words come to her, and most importantly, find the core of the character. Lohman needs to develop her concentration and find a creative objective that carries her from the moment she enters to the moment she leaves.  Lohman is young and has much to learn.

Susan Priver is Petronalla Van Daan and I couldn’t take my eyes off her.  She is a wonderful actress, so real, and has a wonderful instrument that she plays brilliantly. The milk on the mink coat and the selling of the coat were luminous moments in the play. Her performance is definitely worth the price of admission.

Nick Reilly as the shy Peter Van Daan was quite capable.  Still, more work needs to be done with his relationship to his parents, to the Frank family, and especially to Anne. I’m wondering if it would be a good idea to fall in love with Anne the first time he meets her.   Reilly, the actor, should remember when he was sixteen and the hormones were raging. 

Jessica Richards as Margot Frank was quite charming throughout the play. Still, I wondered if Ricards, the actor, felt she was the cause the Franks move into the attic. If she did think that then Margot’s breakdown at the end of the first act should be an apology to all of those in the room, especially her family, rather than kneeling face down crying center stage. I liked Richard’s performance.  Still I believe there’s more to be had here.

Jack Willick provides the voice of the Radio Broadcaster.

I was touched by Mark Belnick’s direction, the storytelling, and his craft. There were a few rough spots, moments missed, relationships not fully realized, but they were only small things that can be easily fixed. Belnick emphasizes that prayer and hope are important elements in this play  - that unifies the families as they await freedom from the allied troops.  But these families come together only in prayer and fight each other under the chronic stress created by fear.

Other members of this fine crew are:

Associate Producer – Victoria Watson, Theatre Planners
Lighting & Sound Designer – Matthew Richter
Costume Designer – Shannon Kennedy
Production Design – Fritz Davis
Publicity – Nora Feldman
Press Photographer – Ed Krieger
Graphic Designer – Kiff Scholl, afKiff Design
Production Stage Manager – Kimberly Walker
WTV Web Master – Gene Kelly

Run and take someone who has not experienced The Diary of Anne Frank.

BUY TICKETS/INFO: or (323) 960-7788

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