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USF: More than words remain with Anne Frank stage adaptation

Published September 28, 2010 10:52 pm

Review • USF's 'Diary' proves silence can be the most visually expressive component of all.
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Cedar City • Words on paper are all that physically remained at the end of young Anne Frank's Jewish life. Those words take on great power — making the girl's memory live on — in the Utah Shakespearean Festival's fall production of "The Diary of Anne Frank."

Even if you've already seen this play on stage or TV, this production is worth seeing again. In this new Wendy Kesselman-adapted script, audiences see a different beginning and ending than the more-familiar 1955 adaptation by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.

At the story's core are two very real and flawed families. And particularly in the final scene, the adaptors' choices serve to drive home the gravity of intolerance. That feeling is built by director Jim Edmondson, who has created a production that's confident and sensitive without being overly dramatic.

The story's set in the summer of 1942 in Amsterdam, and begins as two Jewish families, the Franks and van Daans, move into hiding in the annex of an office building to avoid being arrested by the Nazis. An eighth person, Mr. Dussell, joins them in hiding.

For the next two years, life goes on, as young Anne chronicling the events of everyday life in her journal, recording how the two families survive living in a cramped space with little food and heat. In this adaptation, audiences get more information on Anne's conflicted feelings toward her mother.

The play's pace mirrors that of everyday life, as most of the day is spent in silence as a necessity for survival. The silence offers space and reflective time — and in the stage play — builds tension. After hours, when workers have left the office annex, only then are the characters on the inside able to break the silence and move around. In these scenes, the characters' dialogue is a release — and a much needed one.

The silences also work to give each character a place to be who they are and express their own pain. For example, in Act II, Anne's mother Edith Frank (Corliss Preston) is lit by a soft light while she's on her knees scrubbing the floor. The intent of her actions reveal the fragility of her spirit.

Through Anne's character (Mariko Nakasone) we watch an adolescent trying to keep her spirit and hope alive by simply being herself. At the same time, in her alone moments, be it sleeping or writing in her journal, the reality of the situation surfaces with all its harsh truth. Trapped in a sort of psychological stress test, the question of who will snap first is heightened with every scene.

The USF cast understands what is asked of them as individual characters and as a whole, and together they convey the difficulties of sharing a small space while hiding for their lives. Edmondson's direction is strengthened by the support of a skillful artistic staff, including Donna Ruzika's moody lighting, Jennifer Caprio's era-specific yet understated costumes, both set against a rustic compartmentalized set designed by Jo Winiarski.

Overall, the director offers a respectful, graceful production of Kesselman's adaptation. The pacing allows both the actors — and hence, theatergoers — to connect and invest in the characters' stories.

So when their fate is revealed visually and audibly after the final scene, together we're moved to a place beyond consolation. Thanks to the miracle of live theater, the world's history has become real, has become ours. —

USF's 'The Diary of Anne Frank'

P Cleverly paced production helmed by skilled director who inspires realism and sensitivity from cast.

When • Reviewed Sept. 24; plays through Oct. 23, at 2 p.m. for matinees and 7:30 p.m. for evening performances.

Where • Randall L. Jones Theatre, 351 W. Center St., Cedar City

Tickets • $25 to $59; at http://www.bard.org or 800-PLAYTIX (800-752-9849).

Running time • Two hours and 10 minutes with a 15 minute intermission