Somehow, in my post-high school haze, I managed to file “The Diary of Anne Frank” under stale academia. Did we read about it too many times? Watch the video over and over? Was the teacher less than enthusiastic? Memory fades. In any case, the thought of seeing the play produced on stage in Greene last weekend wasn’t my idea of Friday night fun.
Intrepid theater-goer that I am, I made the trek to Greene’s Chenango River Theatre dutifully (with a stop for a great dinner at Nathanael Greene’s Publick House), expecting, I suppose, a tepid reminder of my grade school past. I should know by now not to make assumptions about anything I’m about to see on CRT’s stage – I’m always surprised, in a good way.
And such was the case with “The Diary of Anne Frank.” While I had my high school Cliffsnotes version of the story committed to memory, over the years I must’ve forgotten its heart and soul. “Transcendently powerful” sounds like a movie poster critic blurb, but it nonetheless describes this production, based of course on the diary of a young Jewish girl during World War II, who is forced, along with her family and a few strangers, into hiding from the Nazis in a concealed Amsterdam attic.
Anne’s description of her family’s persecution and travails is one of the most legendary of all first-hand accounts of war and oppression. Anne’s view is singular, often childish, but always honest and insightful. As a character, she could border on precocious, but Windsor High School senior Sydney Lynn Stachyra handles the role here with aplomb. Her Anne is mesmerizing and heartbreaking as she struggles to understand not only what is happening in the cruel world around her, but in her own emerging adulthood and familial relationships.
Anne’s parents, of course, try to make the best of things for their children. Her mother (Domenica Galati) is stern and practical, while her father (Jonathan Brody) is pragmatic and hopeful. They’re joined in their two-year attic seclusion by prim older daughter Margot (Rebekah Baker), blustery dentist Mr. Dussell (Jerry Marino), the flamboyant Mrs. Van Daan (Colby Thomas), her selfish husband (Jim Wicker) and their shy teenage son Peter (Matt DuMont). Rounding out the cast are two of the Franks’ sympathetic friends, Miep (Laurel Casillo) and Mr. Kraler (Mitch Tiffany), who help hide the refugees and bring them news of the ever-threatening outside world.
“The Diary of Anne Frank” runs the gamut of emotions – fear, oppression, frustration, hate, hope, mirth and joy – all under the veil of claustrophobia and grim reality. Forget, like I did, what you remember about it from high school. Approached with a fresh set of eyes, “Anne Frank” offers a surprisingly witty and incisive commentary on contemporary times as well. Sure, it doesn’t sound like the “feel good” play of the fall (we all know how it ends), but it is nonetheless inspirational – triumphant, somehow, in the face of unspeakable tragedy.
Directed by Bill Lelbach, “The Diary of Anne Frank” runs at the Chenango River Theatre, 991 State Hwy 12, Greene, Thursdays through Saturdays until Oct. 23. For show times and ticket prices, visit them online at chenangorivertheatre.org. It’s the final play of CRT’s 2011 season (although a little bird tells me there’s a Norwich performance in the offing), and well worth a look.