Hale Center Theater Orem’s tiny, cramped theater is the perfect setting for “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which is being produced there now. With literally no space between audience members and actors, viewers are liable to feel as though they are hiding in the attic along with the Franks. Of course, if that were true, they’d have been caught long ago, with all the talking those audiences do.
This production, directed by Syd Riggs, is sensitive and emotional. Big, showy acting has no place in a quiet drama like this — nor, I think, in any show being produced in such an intimate setting — and Riggs has guided her actors to the right balance of passion and restraint.
As Anne, the teen-age girl upon whose true story the play is based, Rachel Woodward is nothing less than fantastic. She is spirited and optimistic, wide-eyed with an expressive, pixie-ish mouth. In some productions of this play, Anne comes across as annoyingly sunny. Here, Woodward makes all her Pollyanna-esque platitudes sound legitimate, like the actual, non-delusional beliefs of a hopeful girl.
Art Allen is also especially good as Anne’s father. Allen has played Noah in Michael McLean’s “The Ark” three times, and Mr. Frank is a similar role. Personable and kind, he has to preside over multiple families sharing cramped quarters under extreme conditions. He comes across as unbreakable of spirit and gentle of soul.
The rest of the cast is strong, too. Dustin Harding plays Peter Van Daan, with Cosette West and Larson Holyoak as his parents; Melanie Harding is Mrs. Frank; Jolene Sayers is Anne’s sister Margot; Mark Taggart is the persnickety Mr. Dussel; and Meg Sherman Grierson and Mark Shipley play Miep and Kraler, who sneak food and supplies to the hidden families. To a person, the performances are natural and down-to-earth.
Also worthy of mention is the makeup (by Brad Montgomery) which in the second act is effectively used to make everyone look sickly, wan and haunted.
This play is a risk for the Hale, which rarely does anything other than comedies and musicals. It was a risk worth taking, for the finished product is admirable.
Should you go? Yes. Everyone needs a little drama in their diet now and then.
Ah, old people talking. I sat in the midst of a sea of them. At one point in the show, the stage is completely silent as Mr. Van Daan sneaks across the room to steal food in the middle of the night. Previously, we have been told that the family suspects rats are doing this. So when we see that it's Mr. Van Daan, the thought occurs to us, "Oh, it's not rats after all. It's that guy!" Except if you're over a certain age, the thought doesn't just occur to you silently; you have to vocalize it, too. No fewer than four different old people, parts of four different couples, whispered hoarsely to their spouses that "he's going to sneak the food, like a rat." I reject the notion that merely by being old, you deserve respect. Try acting like a well-mannered grown-up who knows how to behave at the theater, and then maybe people will not make fun of you.