OLNEY – For a heart-wrenchingly humanistic performance, look no further than “The Diary of Anne Frank” at the Olney Theatre Center.
Within the first 10 minutes of watching the Franks and the van Daans move into their cramped quarters, all sense of time is lost as the actors’ enrapturing performance fills the beautifully-crafted stage.
Misha Kachman’s set is an atmospheric and highly detailed work of art that boasts two stories of rooms, consisting of a dining room, an upstairs attic, an open bedroom, and a small parlor in the corner.
The furniture in these rooms is evocative of the period, creating a realistic setting.
Each cast member acts out their character with distinction, making their presence feel intimately real. From the moment they walk on stage, it seems as though the events are unfolding for the first time in this retelling of a personal story.
Carolyn Faye Kramer is incredibly compelling as Anne Frank, whose innocence and naivety stand out from the grim circumstances of the secret annex’s new residents.
In the first act, she bounces around as a curly-locked, energetic 13-year-old girl. She is adored by her father and clashes with the other characters.
Kramer hits it off immediately with Alex Alferov, who plays a shy Peter van Daan. Their relationship is a series of touching encounters between a sweet girl who is charmingly unaware of her own feminine energy and a reserved, polite older boy.
What is especially moving about Kramer’s performance of Anne is that she plays a prototypical teenage girl of the times.
She is interested in boys and ballroom dancing, hangs clippings of celebrities on her wall, and has a youthful curiosity that catches strangers off-guard.
However, her natural excitement clashes with the brusque Mr. van Daan (Eric Hissom), the fussy dentist Mr. Dussel (Michael Russotto), and her worrying mother, Edith (Brigid Cleary).
Amidst these tensions, the loving relationship she has with her father, Otto Frank (Paul Morella) help her carry past her problems.
Through these relationships, the audience sees Anne’s inner turmoil as she longs to be free from the annex and learning to cope with others.
Since the story is told through the eyes of Anne, the audience is able to see both Anne’s private introspection and her outward appearance to other characters.
The ability to see Anne Frank’s character from both the perspective of others and a first-person view of herself forms her into a three-dimensional person, allowing for captivating revelations when other characters talk to Anne and reveal their feelings about each other.
This ability to peer into the private lives of people is a constant theme in this play. There is a distinct feeling of intimacy as the audience is able to see the faults and merits of each of the characters, making for an experience that creates a yearning for these characters as if they were long-lost memories.
“The Diary of Anne Frank” has many outright hilarious moments coming from the personality clashes of the characters as they joke and tease one another, providing ‘slice-of-life’ humor that can nonetheless turn sour at the drop of a hat: a constant reminder of the dangerous political changes in the outside world.
The ever-pervading danger of Nazi Germany creates some incredibly tense moments such as when the characters freeze when hearing sounds from outside, fearful of being caught.
This tension is partly owed to the fantastic sound design of Matthew M. Nielson.
Neilson’s sound design is three-dimensional, coming from the stage itself or surrounding the audience in the small Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre lab, ranging from passing sirens to haunting recordings of Nazi rallies.
Zach Blane’s lighting adds to the immersion, smoothly transitioning each scene or filtering moonlight through the attic window while David Burdick’s costume design is a perfect rendition of the period clothing.
“The Diary of Anne Frank” is a truly humanistic play that provides a perspective of a horrific event through the lens of personal experience.
As Artistic Director Jason Loewith points out in his playbill note, the past conflict of Nazi Germany echoes now in the present day, and this play reminds us of this.
“The Diary of Anne Frank”, by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, adapted by Wendy Kesselman, and directed by Derek Goldman, is playing at the Olney Theatre Center through Oct. 23 (2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road).
Runtime: 2 hours and 15 min.
For more information, call (301) 924-3400 or visit www.olneytheatre.org.
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