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“The Diary of Anne Frank” Keeps a Tight Grip on Viewers

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Thanks to the prolific book, The Diary of a Young Girl, published in 1947, most are familiar with Anne Frank, the precocious teen who chronicled her two year experience in hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Even those who haven’t read Anne’s words are likely to be familiar with her story, which has been told in history books, through several plays, and even via a few feature films. Under Abdelfattah Abusrour’s direction, however, the timeless tale, onstage now at Burning Coal and titled “The Diary of Anne Frank,” can be experienced in a new and very affecting way.

This production obviously has one goal in mind from the start: to fully immerse viewers in Anne’s world. Picking up just as Anne, her family, and another family, the van Daans, enter into hiding in an attic above her father’s workplace, the production is set in what, quite literally, feels like an attic. Burning Coal has added a stage smack in the middle of its balcony seating area and has viewers sitting all around this new stage. While the cramped feel and even the action of having to go up a flight of stairs to reach the set definitely add to the show’s immersive quality, these things are done at the expense of choice viewing.

Many viewers, especially those sitting in the second (of only two) rows, have heavily obstructed views, thanks to a railing that separates the second row from the first and to a few larger set pieces, including a tall lamp. The stage itself is also quite long, making it virtually impossible for any viewer to see all of the onstage action without a lot of craning and crouching and Abusrour has Anne facing away from most of the audience when she reads her diary entries, lending a frustrating voiceover quality to these monologues.

In spite of these flaws, however, or perhaps because of them, the production still manages to accomplish its overarching goal. Audience members are so close to the Frank family and its cohabitors that they can’t possibly help but feel they’re going through the experience with them, leading to a show that is as emotionally powerful as it is uncomfortable.

Most of the casting choices are spot-on. Young Samantha Rahn, who plays the title character, not only has the perfect look for Anne, but she also has the perfect energy –that indomitable sort of spirit that perfectly encapsulates whom readers of the diary have long imagined Anne to be. Rahn does a good job of portraying Anne’s early enthusiasm and startling innocence before delving into the role’s meatier parts, which include Anne’s budding sexuality and her keen observations of those around her. John Allore as Anne’s father, Otto, is kind, loving, and patient, the kind of father every young girl longs to have, and Erin Tito presents a complex version of her mother, a version that always has something bubbling visibly underneath her calm surface. Anna Grey Voelker brings a similar quiet intensity to her portrayal of studious Margot, Anne’s older sister.

The cast works well together, effectively demonstrating the tension that builds as the closely confined characters start to get on each other’s nerves, but also showcasing the strange kind of love—or at least tolerance—that develops between them. A scene in which the characters celebrate Hanukkah together is particularly demonstrative of the very realized relationships that exist within this story.

Unfortunately, as anyone familiar with Anne’s plight knows all too well, the production can’t possibly end on a happy note. Both in the play and in real life, Anne and her fellow hiders are eventually captured. Abusrour’s direction brings intensity to the final scenes; viewers will be transfixed on Anne’s all-important diary as it is confiscated by a Nazi officer and ultimately left behind. The diary’s weight—both physical and symbolic—is felt by all when the officer casts it aside, its loud thud resounding through the quiet theatre. Wishing to keep viewers entranced until they leave the theatre, Abusrour keeps his actors in character during their final bows and has viewers led out of the theatre by Nazi officers who bark harsh orders at them. As viewers file out past the names of concentration camps on the walls, their minds and hearts will be heavy—a sure sign that the production has done its job.

Burning Coal Theatre Company presents THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK at 7:30 p.m. April 10-12, 2 p.m. April 13, 7:30 p.m. April 17-19, 2 p.m. April 20, 7:30 p.m. April 25, 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 26, and 2 p.m. April 27 in Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604, near the Historic Oakwood Section.

TICKETS: $25 ($15 students, teachers, and active-duty military personnel and $20 seniors 65+), except all tickets are $15 on Thursdays, $15 per person for groups of 10 or more, and $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain, to students with valid ID).

BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or http://www.etix.com/.

SHOW: http://burningcoal.org/the-diary-of-anne-frank/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/534223516694522/.

VIDEO PREVIEW (by nickflix1): https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KT_OzRvPRC4.

PRESENTER: http://www.burningcoal.org/, https://www.facebook.com/Burning.Coal.Theatre, and https://twitter.com/burningcoaltc.

VENUE/DIRECTIONS: http://burningcoal.org/murphey-school-auditorium/.

NOTE 1: The Carolina Center for Jewish Studies and Burning Coal Theatre Company will present the Uhlman Family Seminar entitled “Diaries, Dreams, and Desires: Anne Frank and Jewish Private Life” from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 12th. For details, click here.

NOTE 2: Only the final week (April 25-27) will be wheelchair accessible.

OTHER LINKS:

The Diary of a Young Girl, a.k.a. The Diary of Anne Frank (1947 book): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Diary_of_a_Young_Girl (Wikipedia).

Book: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Annelies Marie “Anne” Frank (German-born Dutch diarist, 1929-45): http://www.annefrank.org/ (Anne Frank Museum Amsterdam), http://www.annefrank.ch/ (Anne Frank Fonds), http://www.annefrank.org.uk/ (Anne Frank Trust U.K.), http://annefrank.com/ (Anne Frank Center USA), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Frank (Wikipedia).

The Diary of Anne Frank (1955 Broadway play): http://www.ibdb.com/production.php?id=2533 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Diary_of_Anne_Frank_%28play%29 (Wikipedia).

Frances Goodrich (playwright and screenwriter, 1890-1984): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Goodrich (Wikipedia).

Albert Hackett (playwright and screenwriter, 1900-1995): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Hackett (Wikipedia).

The Diary of Anne Frank (1997 Broadway revival): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=2866 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/7449/diary-of-anne-frank-the-adaptation-by-wendy-kesselman (Samuel French, Inc.), and http://www.ibdb.com/production.php?id=4764 (Internet Broadway Database).

Wendy Kesselman (Wellfleet, MA adapter, born 1940): http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsK/kesselman-wendy.html (Doollee.com: The Playwrights Database ) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendy_Kesselman (Wikipedia).

Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Study Guide: http://annefrank.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/AFC-Study-Guide-BroadwayPlay-Diary-of-AnneFrank.pdf (Anne Frank Center USA).

Abdelfattah Abusrour (Palestinian director): http://aabusrour.blogspot.com/ (blog), https://www.facebook.com/aabusrour2 (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/aabusrour (Twitter page).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews