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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

The Diary of Anne Frank
Remains Potent at Intiman

Anne Frank
Cast of The Diary of Anne Frank
However diluted and of its time, skillful direction and careful casting insures that the Pulitzer Prize winning Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich dramatization of The Diary of Anne Frank still remains potent and packs an emotional wallop in Intiman Theatre's current production, some fifty-three years after the play's acclaimed Broadway debut. Director Sari Ketter adroitly balances the heavy and light moments in this true-life tale, but her real coup was in casting just the right Anne Frank in Lucy DeVito. The progeny of Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, the gifted Miss DeVito is still a little rough around the edges as an actress, but that only adds to the qualities that make her quite possibly the best Anne Frank I have seen, on stage or screen.

With countless stage productions, an Academy award winning film, and at least two television versions (that I am aware of), the heartbreaking and inspiring tale of Anne Frank and her Dutch Jewish family hiding in the attic to elude the Nazis is one of the most familiar of all WWII sagas. Ketter's exceptional cast breathes fresh life into the proceedings, beginning with the diminutive Lucy DeVito who makes a real flesh and blood adolescent out of Anne, not a beatific martyr. Her Anne is by turns goofy, awkward, annoying, endearing, sweet and sassy, and she grows and matures believably over the years covered in the play (1942-1944). Matching DeVito's bravura turn are the actors cast as the Van Daan family, who cohabitate the attic with the Franks. Shellie Shulkin makes Mrs. Van Daan an aging, flirtatious coquette who looks after her own, and by going for less scenery chewing than Shellie Winters' Oscar-winning portrayal of the role, actually is all the more compelling. As her rather bombastic, selfish husband, Michael Winters is utterly compelling and ultimately pathetic. Connor Toms' Peter Van Daan is a revelation. The role is usually a stick figure (especially so in the wooden performance of Richard Beymer in the film) and Toms makes him a flesh and blood teenaged boy, painfully shy at first and annoyed by Anne's gregariousness and later her comrade and confidante. He and DeVito truly light up the stage in their scenes together.

As Anne's loving, soft-spoken mother, the redoubtable Amy Thone etches another fine stage portrait to add to her impressive gallery. Thone sets off real theatrical fireworks when Edith Frank finally loses her composure and temper and tells off Mr. Van Daan for stealing food. Matthew Boston reads too youthful as the shattered, post-war Otto Frank in the play's prologue but ultimately succeeds with a compassionate portrayal of Anne's understanding father, and Lindsay Evans is suitably wan and fragile as Anne's elder sister Margot. After too many years of being Seattle Children's Theatre's resident male ingénue, Alban Dennis is delightfully quirky as Dussel, the dentist who joins the families in hiding. In the admittedly thankless roles of Miep and Mr. Kraler, the secretary and office manager who help conceal and provide for the attic bound families, Carol Roscoe and Jim Gall both come across as stereotypical do-gooders, rather than the brave souls they actually were.

Though the layout of the attic by scenic designer Nayna Ramey is appropriate, it feels too vast and un-claustrophobic, though Marcus Dilliard's muted lighting design helps. Frances Kenny's costumes all ring with authenticity. Ultimately, The Diary of Anne Frank is far worthier of revival than many other plays of its era. The essence of Anne's original diary survives, sentimentalized or not. It is must-see viewing for younger audience members who sadly may barely know what people endured during WWII. And it is a chance to catch Danny and Rhea's little girl (she's a decade older than she looks onstage) before the rest of the world discovers her.

The Diary of Anne Frank runs through May 17 at Intiman Theatre, 101 Mercer Street, in Seattle Center. For further information visit Intiman online at www.intiman.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion ©2008



- David Edward Hughes



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