You may have read the play in school or at least have heard of the young Jewish girl and her family that went into hiding during World War II. The production of The Diary of Anne Frank by the SUNY Fredonia Department of Theatre and Dance reminds us of the power of witnessing the story on the stage.
The play depicts the Frank family, along with the Van Daans and Mr. Dussel, secreted in the hidden annex and aided by Miep Gies and Mr. Kraler. What they assume will be a temporary sequestration becomes an extended stay as the war wages and the Nazi assault increases. What do eight people hidden away do all day and night? As the play unfolds, we are drawn into their enclosed world.
While Anne is often a focal point, the show represents the excellent work of the entire capable ensemble and production team under the guidance of Director Jessica Hillman-McCord. Haley Beauregard, as Anne Frank, beautifully conveys the exuberance and optimism of the 13-year-old, her vitality contagious as she dances around the room or reflects while writing in her diary. Each of the other characters in the communal living arrangement is well-played too. We trust the level-headed fairness of Nick Gerwitz's Mr. Frank. We feel for Mrs. Frank (Sophie Howes) when Anne rebuffs her. Mrs. Van Dann (Marisa Caruso) speaks her mind and holds her own in testy "discussions" with Mr. Van Dann (Clayton Howe). Peter (Jordan Louis Fischer) and Anne become increasingly conscious of each other. As the characters yearn for life outside of the annex, we hear them wish for a real cup of coffee, attending the movies, a hot bath, cream cakes, or seeing a loved one. In the annex, they make do. They must.
They maneuver around each other in the close quarters of the set (Samantha Sayers). Transparent walls give a constant view of their life in hiding. Reading, studying French, playing cards, and dressing in the dark during scene breaks mark the passage of time. The characters never leave the stage, reinforcing the reality that their lives are at stake if discovered.
The production's use of sound (David Orr) effectively contrasts with the imposed silence when others are in the building. When a noise is heard, the fear of detection is palpable. With so much silence, the sounds are amplified-from rain and thunder to the BBC radio broadcasts announcing Hitler's march across Europe and the piercing air raid siren to the train whistle. The sounds heighten the reality that has sent them into hiding.
Anne writes, "I want to go on living even after my death." In this production, her story and spirit live on. Wendy Kesselman's adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank runs April 12, 13, 18, 19, and 20 at 7:30 p.m. and April 14 at 2:00 p.m. in Marvel Theatre. Tickets are available at the SUNY Fredonia Ticket Office at 716-673-3501 and Fredonia.edu/tickets.
Ann Siegle Drege is a member of the Department of English at SUNY Fredonia