by Dr. L. Todd Thomas
The Diary of Anne Frank by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett is the stage adaptation of The Diary of a Young Girl, a book compiled from three volumes of diary entries written by Anne Frank while she and her family were hiding for two years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Her father published these as a book in 1947, it was reprinted in English in 1952, and first presented as a stage play in 1955. The story was also produced as a movie for the first time in 1959. Pit & Balcony Theatre is producing the newest adaptation by Wendy Kesselman.
This story is ambitious for any community theatre to undertake, and from the minute one steps into the theatre it is clear this cast and crew took that ambition to heart. Jaeleen Davis, in the title role of Anne Frank, will take hold of your attention and never let it go. Her interpretation of Anne at the beginning of the play offers plenty of room to develop as the night proceeds. This play rests almost entirely on the shoulders of the actor playing Anne, and Ms. Davis never misses a beat.
Kevin Profitt, as Otto Frank, had the depth and singularity necessary to be not only the father but the father figure throughout the play. Although he was difficult to hear at times, his calm and pragmatic presence was an effective contrast to the chaos of emotion on the stage.
Jeff List and Rachel Creed as Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan brought a humanity to the story as they struggled not only with their confinement but with what one begins to believe is a sense of inferiority to the Franks. Cassandra Graham plays a convincing Margot Frank, the older sister of Anne, with a quiet, controlled demeanor at the beginning showing us the impact of the stress as the weeks and months pass by. And Mary Spadafore, as the initially stoic Mrs. Frank, creates an interesting arc for her character as she struggles to keep all her concern and stress to herself.
One of the most delightful character developments in the show was Nathan Hanley’s depiction of teenage Peter Van Daan. The changes in Hanley’s Peter as the play progressed were paired perfectly with those of Davis’s Anne.
It is difficult with a play of such substance not to get bogged down by the weight of the story. At times I felt the cast was trying too hard to reinforce the gravity of the situation by the slow pace of movement and notably long gaps between dialogue. With the excellent staging by director Danielle Katsoulos and the strength of the cast already mentioned, this caused the show to drag at times.
It also slowed the lighting transitions, which are crucial in a single set show to move us effectively from scene to scene. Lighting Designer Bailey Banks integrated her work with the story and the set in a powerful way to reinforce the story.
Many productions of the Diary of Anne Frank have been criticized for set designs that gave the impression of near spaciousness. Set Designer Isaac Wood developed an overall set for this show that provided room for the actors to move, but enough tight space for us to never forget they are living in cramped conditions. Sound design by L’Oreal Hartwell and costume design by Karly Laskowski reinforced the conditions of the attic and of the players themselves.
This show is worth taking the time to see. The meticulous thought put into the show from the lobby display, through the unique intermission and the audience discussion at the end will have you talking about the experience for a long time.
The Diary of Anne Frank continues this Saturday and Sunday and next week, February 2-4 with Friday and Saturday performances at 7:30 and Sunday matinee at 3pm. Tickets are available at www.pitandbalconytheatre.com or by calling the box office between noon and 5pm Tuesday - Friday at 989-754-6587. Prices range from $10-$18.