The Diary of Anne Frank
Photo by Daren Scott.

The Diary of Anne Frank

Adapted by Wendy Kesselman
From the original stage play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
Directed by Kym Pappas
Moxie Theatre, San Diego
November 12-December 17, 2017

In 1947, publication of “The Diary of Anne Frank” put a face on the Holocaust. Seventy years later, the Frank family saga continues to resonate as political debates about refugee resettlement currently affect an estimated 65 million people worldwide.

An exquisite and compelling production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” by Moxie Theatre brings new details and insights to a new generation of theater goers.

“We’ve planned on doing this play for years,” said Artistic Director Jennifer Eve Thorn. “This felt like the right time.”

The story begins with the Frank family walking warily into the secret annex of an Amsterdam warehouse where ultimately eight people will remain in hiding for two years. We see horror in the eyes of Mrs. Frank (Wendy Waddell) as the reality of the family’s plight sets in, resignation in the faces of Mr. Frank (Eddie Yaroch) and daughter Margot (Amy Perkins) while 13-year-old Anne (Katelyn Katz, giving an unforgettable performance) declares the situation an opportunity for adventure.

Set designer Sean Fanning has defined the space with the exposed beams of a pitched roofline under which disjointed rooms contain disjointed lives. A dusty, attic-like feeling is achieved by properties designer Angelica Ynfante through mismatched beds, tables and chairs. Conveying a lack of privacy is the use of flimsy curtains at the entrance of bed chambers.

The Franks commence removing numerous layers of clothing: dresses over dresses, pants over pants and coats over the yellow star that identifies those who are Jewish. This in lieu of carrying luggage that would advertise their escape plans.

They are later joined by friends Mr. Van Daan (Jonathan Sacks), Mrs. Van Daan (Holly Stephenson, who at times exhibits more affection for her fur coat than her husband), shy son Peter (Nick Lux) and Mr. Dussel (Joe Paulson), a dentist with a nervous stomach and fear of asthma from Peter’s cat. Their only links to the outside world are Mr. Frank’s secretary Miep (Jamie Channell Guzman) and business partner Mr. Kraler (Austin Wright) who safeguard their secret, secure desperately needed provisions and provide war news.

In order to avoid detection, the eight must remain utterly silent throughout the day. Shoes are removed, the only toilet goes unflushed and the children are admonished to stay away from the windows least their presence is detected by warehouse workers going about their business. The silhouette of a swaying tree devoid of leaves, seen through a grim-smeared window, is the work of lighting designer Chris Renda.

All the while Anne writes in her red-plaid diary of her moods, ambitions, conflicts with her mother, curiosity about her maturing body, a growing affection for Peter and escalating bickering among the adults as the years of confinement drag on. Through it all, Anne still manages to find delight, maintain optimism and to express love. Under the direction of Kym Pappas, actress Katelyn Katz gives a finely nuanced portrayal of Anne maturing from child to young woman before our very eyes. The rest of the cast are equally tightly forged in their performances.

Courtesy of sound designer Lily Voon are resounding church bells that signal both the morning’s “silence only” and evening’s “all clear” to engage in conversation and prepare the simplest of meals; police sirens that keep everyone on edge, until they recede into the distance; and BBC radio broadcasts delivered with an overlay of crackling static.

Then, one day, Nazis burst into the room barking orders and leveling handguns at their captives’ heads. Mr. Frank will emerge as the only survivor by the war’s end. Back in the secret annex, he reclaims Anne’s discarded diary. Meanwhile, the others huddle barely visible in a corner just off stage as Mr. Frank recounts the dates and circumstances of each death. One by one the actors disappear into darkness.

The cast does not return when the lights come up. The audience applauds an empty stage, which underscores the loss of humanity.

by Lynne Friedmann

San Diego ,
Lynne Friedmann, based in San Diego, is an award-winning, freelance writer of news, feature articles, and blogs on science, travel, and the arts. Her decades-long passion for theater was sparked as a teen when the Inner City Cultural Center commandeered classroom curricula by bringing classic plays to urban high schools in Los Angeles.