APRIL 9, 2004
'Diary of Anne Frank' makes a riveting drama
By William Westhoven, Special to the Daily Record
Anne Frank would have been 75 years old this year.
How sad that she died just before her 16th birthday, yet how wonderful it is that we are blessed with her diary,
a timeless testament to faith and hope forged in a world of, in her own words, "chaos, suffering and death."
A revised edition of that testament is now onstage at Tri-State Actors Theater in Sussex. Most of us already know
the story of Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl in Holland who during World War II was forced into hiding along with seven
other Jews to escape the occupying Nazis. Anne's diary, given to her on her 13th birthday, provides a first-person account
of 25 months in hiding with her family, another family and a neighborhood dentist.
We also know the tragic outcome. They were all captured by the Nazis just before the Allies liberated Amsterdam.
Anne and six other occupants of the "Secret Annex" die in concentration camps. Her father was the only one of the group to survive.
Anne's diary was rescued and published in 1947. A play based on the diary debuted on Broadway in 1955. A revised
edition of the diary was published in 1995 and adapted two years later for the stage by Wendy Kesselman. Her revisions make
this production a must-see, even for those who are intimately familiar with the story.
Director Ken Wiesinger and his cast, a mix of experienced amateurs and Equity professionals, take us on an emotional
roller coaster. Lighter moments of Anne's "adventure" give way to desperate drama. Minor conflicts become unbearable as
eight frightened people get on each other's nerves, then cower together when they hear a siren or a bump in the night. The
original adaptation had been whitewashed a bit, focusing on the innocent observations of a 13-year-old girl. Kesselman allows
some of Anne's more mature thoughts to emerge. She describes the changes in her body in some detail, and admits her desire to
be touched by Peter Van Daan, the 16-year-old boy whose family shares the hiding place.
Anne also goes into more detail about her hatred for her mother, a phase in her life that gives way to love before the story is over.
There is also more emphasis on the need for them to hide because they are Jews. Peter says he will likely change his name when they
are free to avoid such conflicts in the future. Anne says she could never turn her back on what she is.
Brittany Knoll, a senior at Wallkill Valley Regional High School in Hardyston, bears an uncanny resemblance to Anne and does
some fine work in an extremely difficult role. She can be a bit shrill when excited, but that's a trait not uncommon among younger teens,
even, one would assume, Anne Frank. Knoll actually does her best work with her eyes, in which you can clearly see all of Anne's wishes, hopes and fears.
The cast's professionals support Knoll's admirable apprentice work and anchor this strong production. David Snizek stands tall as
Anne's warm, dignified and courageous father, who gladly takes in other Jews who have no where else to hide. Judy Rosenblatt as
Anne's mother is the strong, silent cornerstone of the Frank family who explodes when Mr. Van Daan is caught stealing bread.
Anne Connolly, as the slightly snooty Mrs. Van Daan, earns our compassion when she's forced to sell her prized mink coat, then
comforts her husband when he's shunned by the others. Neal Arluck gives us a few laughs as the quirky Mr. Dussel, who is nervous
enough without having to share a bedroom with relative strangers.
This moving and memorable production closes on Easter Sunday, so those who want to see it had better move fast. You may
already have plans for the holiday, but what theatrical experience would suit the occasion better than this one? Anne Frank would
have been 75 years old this year. Instead, she left us with the hope that "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart."