What could be more fitting than a production of “The Diary Of Anne Frank” at the New Jewish Theatre? Unbelievably, they’ve never produced it there before and, with a cast that brings tears to your eyes, this is one of their finest shows ever. And that’s saying a lot because they consistently put quality productions on their stage. This is the much improved version adapted by Wendy Kesselman in 1997. It offers a more realistic and honest version of the story than the original 1955 version. Both are based on the famous diary written by the young Anne Frank when she and her family moved to a small garrett above where her father worked in 1942 in an attempt to escape the Nazi oppression that affected many Jews including those in her home of Amsterdam.
This version offers a much more exuberant Anne with the giddiness of a young girl (13 years old when we first see her) and a girl who matures despite the cramped quarters and the lack of any outside activity or the normal life such a girl should be experiencing as she grows into womanhood. There is also more attention to the real plight of the Jews and a stunning denouement that her father delivers after they are captured just weeks before the final liberation. This is some powerful stuff, sprinkled with humor and a true nod to the fear they all lived under when the slightest noise might mean discovery. Although they were under strict silence during the working day when the factory was open downstairs, their evenings were mostly their own with extreme caution still the rule of the household.
New Jewish has chosen a bright, young actress, Samantha Moyer, to play Anne. Her excitement is hard to contain as she looks on this as an adventure and begins to chronicle her life there with her father, mother, sister and the Van Daan family. Bobby Miller continues his mastery of the stage with a strong outing as Anne’s father, Otto. He’s the master of comedy in most shows we’ve seen him in lately but proves he is a powerful dramatic actor as well. His final scene, choking back tears as he describes the horrors his family has gone through since their capture, is one of the most moving performances we’ve seen on any stage.
Amy Loui is masterful as well as Anne’s mother, Edith. As she seethes and worries about their precarious predicament, she manages to have an outward strength to help bolster her family. She is particularly good in her heartbreaking scene with a disillusioned Anne who confronts her and breaks her heart. Taylor Steward shines as the older and somewhat shy sister of Anne. Though as different as night and day, they are truly fond of each other and it shows.
The Van Daan’s are friends of the Frank family and have been invited to try to “wait out” the Nazi manhunt as well. Jason Grubbe is stern as the father and Margeau Steinau is jittery and, at times, a true bundle of nerves as Mrs. Van Daan. The two seem perfect together even when their major brawl over her fur coat sends them in opposite directions. Leo B. Ramsey turns in a first rate performance as their son, Peter. His hesitancy over Anne’s outgoing personality seems to stymie him at first but then they soon become almost “forced” soul mates as their hormones begin to kick in.
Joining the already crowded household is Terry Meddows in a superb performance as a local dentist, Mr. Dussel. At times you think he may try to take over the whole household but the strong yet gentle hand of Otto Frank takes command. Stefanie Kluba is the Christian liaison for the family who has found the attic room and makes weekly visits to bring them food, books and whatever else she finds that she thinks may ease their fears. In one particular heartwarming scene, she brings Anne a pair of red high heeled shoes that she loves but in which she has trouble maneuvering. Her cohort in aiding the two families is Eric Dean White in a fine performance as Mr. Kraler. Is it he who finally gives them up or is some other outside influence? Because eventually, a Nazi officer and two Nazi soldiers, played by Nathan Schroeder, Erik Kuhn and Craig Jones storm into the attic and take them away, just after they’ve been hearing the news from General Eisenhower that the allies are on their way and liberation seems imminent.
Director Gary Wayne Barker makes this a powerful piece that literally sings as the families cope with each other and the outside forces that threaten them daily. The tension builds then is broken by another narrow escape or by one or the other of the inhabitants bringing a moment of joy to a household that lives in almost constant fear. Jim Burwinkel’s monumental set design offers the feeling of close quarters without destroying the flow of the play. Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes add the touch of authenticity and Maureen Berry’s lights enhance the strength of this overwhelming production.
“The Diary Of Anne Frank” is a testimony to tenacity and a paean to the horrors of war and the unbelievable treatment of a whole group of people. The New Jewish Theatre production takes it all to another level as you feel all the pain, fear and sheer joy that only the indomitable spirit can bring to a family and a race that must suffer through unwarranted persecution. It plays through November 2nd. Give them a call at 314-442-3283 or contact them at newjewishtheatre.org for tickets or more information.