In his opening night curtain speech, director Lane Savadove reminded the audience that THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK “is not a story about Anne Frank, it’s a story written by Anne Frank.” For EgoPo’s production, Savadove thus chose Wendy Kesselman’s hauntingly honest adaptation of the play, which strips away the sentimentality, returns to the original source of the diary, and brings greater integrity to Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s diluted script of 1955. It also includes additional passages from the diary that had been expurgated by Otto Frank–Anne’s father and the family’s sole survivor of Hitler’s concentration camps–relating his daughter’s blossoming sexuality and the hostility she felt towards her mother and sister. The results are a deeply moving and unflinchingly intimate portrayal–the true story of a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl suddenly snatched from childhood and thrust into the unfathomable nightmare of the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam.
Matthew Miller’s set design in shades of brown conveys the drabness of existence in the overcrowded, claustrophobic attic in which four members of the Frank family and four of their Jewish neighbors lived for twenty-five months to evade extermination, with no natural light, no fresh air, no privacy, and no escape. The audience sits around two sides of the thrust stage, in close proximity to the actors, thereby enhancing the immediacy of their story. The cast remains onstage at all times, even during intermission, when the audience can leave the room, go outside, or purchase refreshments; it is an effective device that Savadove employs to underscore the characters’ plight of confinement, hunger, and loss of the everyday freedoms that we take for granted.
Natalia de la Torre’s well-researched costumes and hairstyles lend credence to the unfailingly realistic production, as does Julian Guerra’s sound design of historic World War II radio broadcasts, siren alerts, overhead warplanes, and the random knocks and creaks in the house that send the attic’s inhabitants into a panic. Matt Sharp’s lighting cogently marks the passage of time in the sealed space–the endless hours of day becoming night and the cycles of seasons passed while in hiding.
Sarah Howard is radiant as the adolescent Frank, whose heightened emotions are always on the surface, whose every thought is expressed with no self-edit, and whose vivid descriptions of the horrors of the Holocaust extend beyond the realm of human comprehension; surely a star was born with this production. Howard’s bravura performance reveals the rollercoaster ride of rapidly shifting moods and raging hormones of adolescence; she is at first effervescent when talking about her family’s “adventure” in the attic, then alternately inquisitive, unruly, hopeful, taunting, excited, terrified, sweet, loving, and longing. She makes us laugh, then breaks our hearts, and commands our attention every moment she speaks; her uncanny portrayal is true to the ingenuous passion recorded by Anne Frank in her diary.
The entire supporting cast excels in bringing to life the unique, real-life characters they portray, exposing their natures and idiosyncrasies, both good and bad. Under Savadove’s masterful direction, the ensemble works seamlessly together, bickering under pressure, distraught over the deteriorating conditions of the world outside, and evincing the shattered nerves, constant fear and tension, and incessant strain of coping with the untenable situation and conflicting personalities. The company triumphs on all counts in delivering a genuine and affecting story—a story, and a production, that should never be forgotten.
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK is the first offering in EgoPo’s 2011-12 Festival of Jewish Theater, which has seen the highest advance ticket sales in the company’s five-year history in Philadelphia. It will be followed by two new takes on classic Jewish myths: an ensemble-created world premiere of THE GOLEM, which will include traditional Czech puppets and live Klezmer music; and Tony Kushner’s award-winning adaptation of A DYBBUK.
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK
By Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
Adapted by Wendy Kesselman
Directed by Lane Savadove
October 19- November 6, 2011
EgoPo Classic Theater
The Prince Music Theater Cabaret
1412 Chestnut Street, 2nd floor
Philadelphia PA 19102