Tension never leaves play on area stage

The Diary of Anne Frank’ grips audience with focused acting, direction

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The flat Black Box Theatre thrust stage at the Arvada Center is crowded with furniture: beds, a table, chairs, a chest, as the audience is seated for a performance of the remarkable “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which runs in repertory with two other plays through May 17.

The Jewish Dutch girl, who didn’t live to fulfill her ambitions to become a professional writer, left the world the “most widely read book about the Holocaust … translated into 70 languages, published in more than 60 countries. Selling over 35 million copies,” according to Christy Montour-Larson, who directed this production.

Montour-Larson has worked skillfully with a cast of 10 to tell a familiar story with really remarkable style, limited by a congested stage, where actors had to, in keeping with the story, refrain from any exuberant actions or shouts, no matter how frustrated their character may have been. They certainly learned to convey tension with a look on a face or clenched fist.

This version of the play, adapted from the original by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, was released in 1995 by Wendy Kesselman, when previously edited passages of the original diary were added to a revised edition of the book. Anne’s comments about sexuality and accounts of her conflicts with her mother are included in this production. The original diary was found by the ever-brave Miep Gies (Regina Fernandez), who was able to keep food and supplies — though meager — delivered to the family and the others hiding with them for two years. Gies was able to connect with Otto Frank, the only family member who lived, soon after World War II ended and give him Anne’s diary, which he determined to publish. (Anne died of an infection at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.)

It’s almost dark as the Franks: Anne (the astonishing young Darrow Klein), father Otto (Larry Kahn), mother Edith (Emily Paton Davies) and older sister Margot (Annie Barbour) file into the secret hiding place and are told to be totally quiet while the business downstairs was operating during the day — no water running, no loud noises. They move slowly, pull sheets off the furniture and settle in to what will be their home — for nearly two years, it turns out ... A message from the SS had summoned Margot to report to them and they had to flee quickly.

Periodically, one hears loudspeakers blaring in the streets, adding to the tension that never leaves the scene.

Otto’s business partner, Mr. von Daan (Abner Genece), his wife (Emma Messenger) and teenage son Peter (Daniel Crumrine) soon join the Franks, as does a dentist, Mr. Dussel (Zachary Andrews). And they must attempt to live in close quarters, with very limited food, a radio that keeps them abreast with war news, occasional books and for Anne, her diary and a pen.

Of course, tempers flare, personalities become exaggerated and the fear of discovery is always there.

For an actor, a quiet shift in weight or gesture of a hand speaks volumes on this subdued scene, and strong skills in both director and cast grow increasingly evident.

Anne speaks as she writes in her diary, connecting the story and recounting incidents we may not have seen. Montour-Larsen quotes her at the start of her notes: “I don’t want to have lived for nothing like most people. I want to be useful or give pleasure to the people around me yet who don’t really know me. I want to go on living even after my death. And therefore, I am grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and writing, of expressing all that is in me.”

Readers know the story, but will want to see this excellent production, with a young lead as Anne, whom we will watch as she grows and continues to excel.

The other two Black Box productions coming later this spring are: “The Moors,” by Jen Silverman, described by director Anthony Powell as “channeling the Bronte Legacy …” running Feb. 22-May 18; “Basin Street Social Club,” newly finished by local actor Jessica Austgen, running March 15 to May 19. Once all are up and running, they will alternate performances, and the stage will be transformed with each show, which is part of the fun of watching a rep company! See arvadacenter.org for dates.

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