The Diary of Anne Frank encapsulates a compelling historical drama about the lives of two Jewish families forced to go into hiding during Judenrat, the selection process of Jews during World War II under the Third Reich. With Anne Frank we often think of her as the symbol of Holocaust victims, and certainly one of the most famous. There are so many tales like hers, and then there are the many stories of the survivors. Famous Polish-Jewish ballerina Franceska Mann fought back and killed her captor while Joyce Vanderveen, Anne’s Dutch-Jewish childhood friend survived in hiding and after the war went on to become a famous ballerina and star in movies like The Ten Commandments, and Peter Gunn. Although Anne’s fate is tragic, the aspiring writer’s story lives on materialized in the form of books, movies, and plays. It’s this play that humanizes her and gives us insight into her very real adolescent thoughts and feelings.
There are several versions of the play by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, and director Kevin Colbert guides us authentically through the harrowing journey of the Franks and Van Daans (Van Pels in history,) during such a perilous time. Undoubtedly The Diary of Anne Frank at the Loftethrough and through is a classic.
The talented cast does this work justice and their efforts do not go unnoticed. 13-year-old Anne is vivacious and outspoken, her personality either amusing or annoying the adults she has to live with for the next two years in the Secret Annex of her father’s spice factory attic. Portrayed by Lily Pope, she is a dynamic character that comes alive, a depiction of the person Anne was detached from the haunting photographs we have of her. While my favorite depiction of Anne Frank is Millie Perkins in the 1959 film, Pope’s spunky interpretation breathes new life into the well-known character. The Hollywood movie almost lends a glamorous film noir charm, centering on Anne’s writings, musings and blossoming romance, romanticizing the danger faced while in hiding, when the story itself is raw and emotional, chronicling a very dark time in history.
B.J. Monson is amiable as Otto Frank, with Melinda Mead as a melancholic Edith. Christa Dunker who plays the kind and concerned Miep Gies is an early ally and friend. Mr. Kraler (Aaron Spracklin) is also a brave and friendly face aiding the families. In the play these two characters serve as the Frank and Van Daans’ only connections to the outside world.
Bella McAttee plays Margot as soft spoken and cordial, a foil to Anne. Randy Wallace as Putti Van Daan portrays the stark dynamic between him and Petronella, his elegant but somewhat egocentric wife. Played brilliantly by Holly McAttee, she captures the essence of her character. When we meet the Van Daans, we learn that Peter already knows of Anne, and her antics. He soon develops a liking to her as they grow closer in close quarters. Lucas Hrabik as Peter adds depth to his character, starting out as moody, slowly opening up over time, revealing a softer side. Rounding out the cast are Ryan Lorchick as the dentist Jan Dussel who later joins them, and Scott Pope, Evan Dunker, and Jeff Johnston as the Gestapo. Tensions run high as the families stay cooped up over time, and the cast dynamic captures this well.
The set tells a story of its own, with its foreboding chimney design and rustic boards crudely nailed together to reflect that of a claustrophobic atmosphere and feel, with red lighting periodically foreshadowing an impending doom. Costumes are of the period with a number of fashionable 1940s designs sported by Miep to the limited conservative frocks of the Frank and Van Dan women.
Historical components of this play give us sobering insight into the many hardships the families had to face food ration cards existed, and boiled rotten potatoes became the norm as a dinner staple. The WC (water closet, i.e., toilet) could only be used after hours. They were almost caught twice before an alleged Jewish collaborator betrayed them to the Gestapo. One of the saddest revelations is that the Frank family attempted many times to emigrate to America, as Otto had applied for a visa and even had a high connection with a contact in America. His wife Edith also had family residing in the U.S., but it wasn’t enough. As they ran out of time and Margot was summoned to a labor camp, he made the reluctant decision for his family to go into hiding.
Trigger warning: the Nazi police in this version command the stage with a more ominous presence, and it’s a powerful take on what the Frank and Van Pels arrest in 1944 might have experienced. The Lofte Community Theatre perfectly stages a classic that is sure to make you think and reflect on the lives that perished during the Holocaust.
The Diary of Anne Frank plays through September 11th.