Review: The Diary of Anne Frank at Writer's Theatre

Review: The Diary of Anne Frank at Writer's Theatre
Sean Fortunato is Otto Frank, and Sophie Thatcher is his daughter, Anne, in “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Photo: Michael Brosilow

“There are no walls, no bolts, no locks that anyone can put on your mind.”—Otto Frank
A cup of coffee, a warm bath, a breath of fresh air, a movie, things that most of us take for granted are what they longed for…

As we enter the theater, we enter the world of Annelies Marie Frank (Anne Frank). We know her story through her diary which begins, “Dear Diary, since you and I are going to be great friends, I will start by telling you about myself. My name is Anne Frank. I am thirteen years old. I was born in Germany the twelfth of June, nineteen twenty-nine. As my family is Jewish, we emigrated to Holland when Hitler came to power.”

On June 12, 1942, Anne and her family, father Otto, big sister Margot and mom Kristina were forced into hiding to avoid being captured by the Nazis.  A month later they were joined by the van Daan family, a cat and shortly after that a friend who was a dentist.

Together the eight unlikely bedfellows lived the best they could in a cramped space above the store where Otto had run his business until he was forced to give it up.

For over two years, they were unable to go outside, and couldn’t make a sound between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. for fear of being discovered by people in the store below.  Food was scarce and feelings vacillated from hope to despair.  Like animals trapped in a cage, they had nowhere to go so had to make the best of it.

The Writer’s Theatre production, originally adapted by Wendy Kesselman for Broadway where it received a Tony Award nomination, captures the essence of this unbelievable story in a very personal way.

Antonio Zhiurinskas (Peter van Daan) and Sophie Thatcher (Anne Frank): Michael Brosilow photo

Antonio Zhiurinskas (Peter van Daan) and Sophie Thatcher (Anne Frank): Michael Brosilow photo

The intimate performance space in the back room of Books on Vernon in Glencoe is the perfect setting to stage the production.  Jack Magaw’s scenic design, was perhaps the most striking feature of the production.

From the moment the audience enters the space, they are immersed in a small attic-like structure where they are at one with the actors.

The honesty of the setting prevails lending a voyeuristic experience heightening the degree of artistic authenticity.

The collection of 13 actors represents the largest cast ever to perform together on this stage–making for a ratio of 4-audience members (in the 60-seat bookstore space) for each actor.

Most important to the story is having a likeable, believable Anne Frank.  Sophie Thatcher who plays Anne delivers on both counts. Although the actress was somewhat worried that she might not be believable because her appearance was not like the real life Anne, this was not a problem. From the moment the lights went up her charisma and enthusiasm were captivating.

Adding even more authenticity to the character of Anne is that Sophie Thatcher is 14-years-old–the same age as Anne Frank when she was writing her diary.  Anne’s father Otto is another role that must be just right.  Sean Fortunato’ Otto Frank was on target and then some. His stoic decency, tenderness and caring was the glue that held the attic residents together.

Kristina Valada-Viars’ performance as Edith Frank was powerful with her facial expressions sometimes even speaking louder than her words. Heidi Kettenring’s Mrs. Van Daan often voiced what others were thinking with her on-spot delivery.  Mr. Van Daan’s (Lance Baker) selfishness was as distasteful as it was understandable.  Their son, Peter Van Daan (Antonio Zhiurinskas) grows into his own person during the performance–becoming a better, less selfish and more likeable person than either of his parents.

Leah Karpel’s Miep Gies, and her associate, Mr. Kraler (Coburn Goss), who risk their lives to keep the others fed and hidden, play their somewhat smaller roles to perfection, while providing a link to the world outside.

The rest of the worthy cast of The Diary of Anne Frank under the competent direction of  Kimberly Senior include: Kevin Gudahl (Mr. Dussel), Sam Hubbard (Nazi), Lila Morse (Margot Frank) and Eric Slater (Nazi), James Sparling (Nazi).

In addition to scenic designer, Jack Magaw, the design team includes:  Nan Zabriskie (Costume Designer), Sarah Hughey (Lighting Designer), Josh Schmidt (Sound Designer), Nick Heggestad (Properties Designer) and David Woolley (Fight Choreographer).  The Stage Manager is David Castellanos.

Tickets and information:

Tickets are $35-$70 and are available at the Box Office, 321 Park Avenue, Glencoe or by calling 847-242-6000 or online.

Curtain times are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30pm; Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00pm; Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Select Wednesday matinees are at 2 p.m. The show runs February 24 – June 28, 2015.

Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission, no late arrivals admitted.

Where: Books on Vernon, 664 Vernon Ave, Glencoe, 847 835-5180.

Rating: ★★★★

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