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Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

The Diary of Anne Frank
Cleveland Play House
Review by David Ritchey

Also see Mark's review of The Art of Longing


Annie Fox
Photo by Roger Mastruianni
As the intensity of World War II escalated and as Hitler and the Germans took more and more control of Europe, the Jews in Europe were taken captive and placed in concentration camps. Some worked as slaves. Others were executed and buried in mass graves. Hitler wanted a Europe free of Jews. Hitler brought more and more horrific events to the world's stage. I once knew a man who was a teenager in Amsterdam during the period Anne Frank and her family were in hiding. He told me the Nazis controlled the local citizens by occasionally hanging a man from a utility pole. The teenagers in his neighborhood did not cause any trouble because they knew someone's father would be hanged by the Nazis if they caused any problems.

That's the setting in which Anne Frank wrote her diary, which was published as The Diary of Anne Frank. Cleveland Play House presents Wendy Kesselman's adaptation of the play.

Anne's sister Margot received orders to report to a German work camp. The following day Margot, Anne and their parents went into hiding in the secret annex of a factory in which Anne's father Otto Frank shared ownership. Miep Gies, who worked at the company, helped the Frank family by bringing them food and other necessities of life once a day.

Other people joined the Frank family, including the Van Daan family, Mr. Van Daan, Mrs. Van Dann, and their teenage son Peter. Another gentlemen joined them, Mr. Dussel (Lee Winant), who was a dentist. For more than two years the eight people remained hidden in the attic of the building. They struggled to remain civilized in their hideout. They had dinner each night at the dining room table, with their good china and the silver. And, most important, they celebrated the Jewish holidays.

Annie Fox (Anne) is a recent graduate of NYU Acting program, yet she has the looks and energy of a young teenager. She keeps her optimism on top of her character. She is sure she and her family will be free to leave their captivity soon. In sharp contrast, Anne's sister Margot (Sarah Cuneo) is quiet and keeps to herself as much as possible in the small facility. Some of the adults suggest that Anne attempt to be quiet, more like her sister. Cuneo plays her quietness as if her character knows the terrible situation the war has forced on her family. Her fear of the Nazis is apparent.

Otto Frank (Rick D. Wasserman) helps Peter van Daan with his homework. The parents want the children to be ready to return to school when their captivity ends. Otto Frank takes the role of the leader. He helps each of the individuals in their upper floors and insists no one do anything to call attention to their hiding place. Wasserman is forced to play Otto Frank as a soft-spoken man in order to keep other people in the building from hearing him and discovering his family.

Today, Otto's wife Edith Frank (Lise Bruneau) would be described as depressed. She's quiet and at times stands without movement. Lise Bruneau has played comedy in Ken Ludwig's The Game's Afoot, yet she moves to the other side of her personality and plays Edith as desperate to protect her children and her husband. She wants to provide good food for her children and a good quality of life for everyone in her home. Mrs. Frank is a hostess providing for everyone in her home even when she has little to provide.

Mrs. Van Daan (Laura Perrotta) owns a beautiful fur coat, the last gift from her father. She wears the coat in their hideout to bring back memories of her father and the better life in her past. She loses control of her emotions when her husband sells the precious fur coat for money to buy cigarettes and pay for their share of the food. Laura Perrotta has acted in the Cleveland area for many years. She is a talented performer who can easily play comedy, physical comedy, and dramatic work. Her work in this production shows her at the top of her abilities, playing a large range of emotions—anger, love and occasionally, her sadness at their living conditions.

Peter van Daan (Yaron Lotan) is one of the most interesting characters in this script. He is a teenager on the edge of manhood. He is awakening into sexuality. He needs to be out exploring the world. Lotan plays Peter as a character evolving. He is a quiet young teenager, slowly evolving into a young man and then into a man. A well written character shows changes as the story evolves. Peter's character slowly changes during the play.

Director Laura Kepley has the ability to work on the large canvas that is the background for this production. She easily manages a large cast and helps them tell this dramatic story. Kepley does a good job with the cast on the stage for most of the play. During the short intermission, Kepley keeps all of the cast in the playing area and they continue about their lives in hiding.

Robert Mark Morgan has created a long, slender set, which seems to run the length of the playing area. At one end of the room, stairs go up to a higher, getaway area, where Peter seems to make his room or hide away. The set is much larger than the same area is in the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam.

Costume designer David Kay Mickelsen dresses the men in dark clothing that seems appropriate for 1940s Amsterdam. The women were from prosperous families before the war and had a large wardrobe of clothing in the style of the late 1930s. Surely no one had new clothes once the war started.

The original script for the play was written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. This edition was adapted by Wendy Kesselman.

Overall, The Diary of Anne Frank is a genuinely moving production, growing out of a special script and spectacular acting. This production offers a brilliant opportunity to see quality acting as it should be. It should not be missed.

The Cleveland Play House offers The Diary of Anne Frank through November 19, 2017, in the Outcalt Theatre, 1407 Euclid Avenue Cleveland OH. For ticket information call 216-400-7027 or visit www.clevelandplayhouse.com.

Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
Adapted by Wendy Kesselman
Anne Frank: Annie Fox
Otto Frank: Rick D. Wasserman
Edith Frank: Lise Bruneau
Margot Frank: Sarah Cuneo
Miep Gies: Amy Fritsche
Peter Van Daan: Yaron Lotan
Mr. Kraler: Tom Woodward
Mrs. Van Daan: Laura Perrotta
Mr. Van Daan: Bruce Winant
Mr. Dussel: Lee Wilkof
First Man: Paul Bugallo
Second Man: Randy Merrill
Third Man: Peter Hargrave
Scenic Designer: Robert Mark Morgan
Costume Designer; David Kay Mickelsen
Lighting Designer: Mary Louise Geiger
Sound Designer: Daniel Perelstein Fight Director: Catherine Moore
Voice, Speech and Text Coach: Thom Jones
Director: Laura Kepley


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