“The Diary of Anne Frank,” by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, is the latest production by Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey (STNJ), in a new adaptation from Wendy Kesselman that includes material that Otto Frank had not authorized to be included in the “original” diary and play. It’s hard to imagine the world that Anne Frank knew in the earlier part of the last century. Yet her record of her time hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam during World War II, even today, provides so much insight on daily life for the many people who lived in crannies and crawl spaces to escape capture. The new additions based on the unabridged diary show us a truly teenaged girl, who has thoughts on her burgeoning sexual nature, as well as a lack of understanding and communication with her mother. Perhaps Otto wanted his entire family to be remembered in the sepia tone of a beloved photograph, yet our hunger for truth demands a picture of Anne as a young woman, rather than an impossibly perfect saint. Somehow, Anne emerges as both.
Emanuelle Nadeau is Anne Frank. For those of us who loved her as Scout in STNJ’s “To Kill A Mockingbird,” as well as in Luna Stage’s “Tar Beach,” this young woman is an actor of depth, who initially shows us the carefree teenaged Anne, who looks upon the families’ exile as an adventure, then the philosophical young woman into whom she transforms, after two years in enforced captivity. Anne’s mordant words about her mother and her attic fellows and her growing attachment to Peter (Sean Hudock) are organic and very true-feeling. Initially relating like cats and dogs, Anne and Peter come to find a great deal of common ground, and it is in the midst of their innocent joy that the ultimate tragedy begins.
Bryan Scott Johnson and Jacqueline Antaramian are Otto and Edith Frank. Edith is at her wits’ end, a considerable distance, between the desire to keep her family properly cared for and her despair at not being able to be as close to Anne as she is to Margot (Lauriel Friedman). Otto is the great conciliator, the diplomat who keeps the tiny world of the attic in delicate balance among the adults, and revered as the Father of the entire group by the young adults. Margot is able to explain her mother and her sister to one another to an extent, and one may only wonder at the miraculous changes that minds like these could have made in the world, had they survived.
Conflict is inevitable, especially with the Van Daans, Peter’s parents, who are very different from the Franks. Carol Halstead’s Mrs. Van Daan is a portrait of vulnerability, with a tough shell that begins to crack under stress, though at times, she’s very vocal in sharing happy memories of earlier times. She’s got her hands as full as Edith’s, as she works to help everyone survive. Her husband is played by Anthony Cochrane and his theft of resources from the group reveals a great deal about how anyone’s character might react to seismic shift and pressure in such devastating circumstances.
When Mr. Kraler (Michael Leigh Cook) and Miep Gies ( Shana Wiersum), the Dutch people who despise the Nazis as much as they love the Franks, introduce Mr. Dussel (Patrick Toon) into the mix, as another lost soul looking for sanctuary, it is Otto who points out the obvious–where seven may hide, so may eight. Each person’s humanity, the positive and the less so, emerge in this arena, in which they find themselves struggling for survival. Even though we all know the story and we know how it ends, it is still chilling to the body and soul when the inevitable betrayal and capture comes. What crystalized the entire experience for me is Otto’s solitary final speech that puts the button on the play, even while my mind was playing back moments of each of the characters that he describes, as he limns their fate. I went home and ordered my copy of Anne’s diary, and you may find yourself doing the same.
This brilliant production, helmed by Joseph Discher, is a great holiday gift that will keep giving, even when you give it long before Chrisma-chanukah. Experiences like this don’t happen often, and this is one you may have only till November 21. You must see Diary of Anne Frank at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Visit www.shakespearenj.org