This past weekend the Cardinal Stage Company opened a stunningly involving production of Wendy Kesselman’s newly adapted “The Diary of Anne Frank” directed by the Cardinal Stage’s founder Randy White. Unlike the 1955 play or the 1959 movie, this production has the Frank and the Van Daan family’s Jewishness very much in evidence as part of their culture and the reason that they must live in hiding. It also gives us a much feistier, more difficult and nuanced Anne as a perhaps too energetic and imaginative teen aged girl who’s well aware of impending womanhood.
High school students Avery Wigglesworth and McCarry Reynolds played Anne and the shy Peter Van Daan. Mike Price was the solid Otto Frank, the only survivor of the eight in the attic, with Martha Jacobs as his wife Edith who was simply crushed by the experience. Constance Macy and Ken Farrell played Peter’s colorful parents, Mrs. And Mr. Van Daan. Allison Moody and Jack O’Hara were the supportive Dutch, Miep Gies and Mr. Kraler. Gerard Pauwels was the dentist who later joins the group.
The Cardinal Stage Company’s production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” uses most of the large upstairs room of the John Waldron Arts Center. The attic hideaway, intricately and richly designed by Mark Smith, stretches the width of the room. The audience is on two sides. Although there is a break for intermission, the drama’s continuity is preserved as the families stay on stage and continue to go about their lives.
The experience of seeing this adaptation of the story is a richly rewarding one, far too interesting to discuss in just a few minutes, but let me mention three things. First, there’s feeling that this thrown together group of refugees becomes a recognizable family. The good things, the understanding and support, and the bad things, the petty and not so petty irritations that go with family life are very much in evidence. The tension is mixed with a good deal of really warm and sometimes very funny moments.
Second was the character of Mrs. Van Daan as realized by Constance Macy. The woman is vain, wedded to material things, insecure, boastful of her sexuality critical of her husband, and frightened. She’s also creative, generous, and supportively giving in one of the most moving moments of the play.
Third, and I have mixed feeling about this, the ending—the arrival of the Nazis and the deportation to death of the families-floats. Yes, the leader of the Nazis speaks in short guttural commands and is plenty scary, but some how there’s an almost dream like quality to it. The dreamy feel stayed with me even as the Otto Frank character returned to the attic after to war to details the deaths of his companions and to gather Anne’s diary and notes. It’s an incredibly realized and executed dramatic choice, that I’m still wrestling with.
The Cardinal Stage Company’s production of Wendy Kesselman’s newly adapted “The Diary of Anne Frank” plays Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays with 7:30 shows and an extra two o’clock matinee on Saturdays through September 28th at the John Waldron Arts Center. This Wednesday evening there’s an extra show and a special conversation on Anne Frank’s Impact and Legacy with playwright Wendy Kesselman, Alvin Rosenfeld of the Institute for Jewish Culture and the Arts, and David Barnouw from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.
Listen to George Walker’s interview with the cast.
Listen to Adam Schwarz’s interview with Wendy Kesselman from Artworks.