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The Diary of Anne Frank
Repertory Theater of Saint Louis

Also see Richard's review of Why Torture Is Wrong and the People Who Love Them

The production of The Diary of Anne Frank which opened at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis on Friday, February 12, will surprise people who remember the original staged version of Miss Frank's iconic memoir. Omissions that were thought necessary to make bearable the terrible circumstances in which the Frank family and their friends survived for more than two years in hiding have been restored. The result is a darker, more mundane and therefore more compellingly human story in which the characters, especially Anne herself, become more rounded and complex and more specifically Jewish.

A substantial amount of credit for the success of this production goes to the production team. Director Steven Woolf always handles the composition of stage pictures deftly; here, the circumstances call for a complicated eight-character dance through an equally complicated three-level set, and the choreography is managed so expertly that each movement, even each gesture, seems perfectly natural. The rhythm of the production is equally effective; in keeping with the spirit of Kesselman's revised script, the story of these urban castaways moves with intense but understated energy right up to the point at which it must perforce collide with reality, when everything crashes, and there remains only a sad, slow coda to close the evening.

John Ezell, certainly in the highest echelon of contemporary set designers world-wide, creates a space for Mr. Woolf's cast that is simultaneously abstract and naturalistic, with suggested walls and emphatically concrete furniture, exaggerated dimensions and spaces perfectly apportioned to frame the nuances of action. Phil Monat lights this intricate set with an expert sense of the play's rhythm and of its subtle but essential changes in mood. Elizabeth Covey's costumes are beautifully thought out and executed, but there is not much difference between the way the characters look in the first act and the way they look in the second, when they have ostensibly been wearing those same clothes and making do with amateur haircuts and limited washing facilities for many months.

I was quite surprised to learn from the artists' bios that Lauren Orkus, who plays the teenaged Anne Frank, is old enough to hold an MFA from Florida State. Her grasp of the ungainly movements of Anne at 13 is perfect, as is her mastery of the mercurial moods and range of pitch and inflection the role demands. John Rensenhouse gives one of his best Rep performances as her father. Peggy Billo as Mrs. van Daan and Gary Wayne Barker as the impetuous and difficult Mr. Dussel stand out among the ensemble cast. Maura Kidwell and Jerry Vogel are brilliant in the cameo roles of the Dutch citizens whose risk-taking makes the survival of the Franks and their friends possible.

In short, the Rep's production of this corrected (and apparently recently re-modified) version of The Diary of Anne Frank is an intensely dramatic evening, even though everybody knows how the story ends. The play will run through March 7; for ticket information call the box office at 968-4925 or visit the web site at www.repstl.org.


-- Robert Boyd

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