Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Diary of Anne Frank
In 1942 Anne Frank received a diary for her birthday. She was thirteen years old and most likely, she had no idea that the words written in that treasured birthday gift would make her one of the most well-known teenagers in the world. Anne had the diary for just a short time before she and her family had to go into hiding for the simple reason that they were a Jewish family living in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam.
Eventually, the family, along with four others, was captured and forced to experience the horrors of the Nazi run concentration camps. Anne's beloved father Otto was the only family member to survive. However, one other thing survived Anne's diary.
Some years after his release, Otto Frank had the diary published but not before editing out certain passages. In 1955 Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett adapted it for the stage. The result was the Pulitzer Prize winning play The Diary of Anne Frank. After the death of Otto Frank a new version of the diary was published, featuring the deleted material. Playwright Wendy Kesselman combined this latest version of the diary and Holocaust survivor accounts to update the original play.
Now Bethesda's Round House Theatre has taken on this remarkable piece of theater and they have truly outdone themselves. Every element in this production works. The play's structure is sound and Rebecca Bayla Taichman provides seamless direction. Each transition is fluid and every movement serves a purpose. She guides her cast in a way that makes even their most discordant moments seem harmonious in their connection to each other. The set by James Kronzer is outstanding. His recreation of the hidden annex communicates the cramped and shabby quarters that was Anne's home for two years. Additionally, Rosemary Pardee's costumes articulate the characters' situation and era. Her attention to detail is especially good in the second act.
The casting for this show is impeccable. Lea Michele is extraordinary as Anne. This Broadway alum (Ragtime, Fiddler on the Roof) exhibits immense versatility in her portrayal. She is just as successful displaying the childish enthusiasm of a thirteen-year-old as she is conveying the budding maturity of a fifteen-year-old. Miss Michele has a wonderful rapport with the rest of the cast and she relates particularly well with Gary Sloan's Otto Frank. Mr. Sloan gives a fine performance as Anne's loving father. He is all strength and wisdom but he still manages to be vulnerable when necessary.
Kathryn Kelley delivers a beautifully nuanced performance as Anne's mother Edith and Bess Rous is a quiet but intense Margot. Washington actors Sherri L. Edelen and Rick Foucheux portray the Van Daans. Both provide some very amusing moments as well as some very moving ones. As their son Peter, Peter Stadlen exhibits a sweetness that is quite endearing and as Mr. Dussel, Mitchell Hébert is very effective as the thorny but likeable dentist.
In the end, this show accomplishes what it sets out to do. It captures the audience and educates them about a single girl and the harrowing world around her. However, The Diary of Anne Frank is more than one girl's story. It is the story of a whole generation that cannot be forgotten. Thanks to Anne and the efforts of theaters like Round House it won't be. The Diary of Anne Frank runs through December 12th.
Round House Theatre
Anne Frank: Lea Michele