“The Diary of Anne Frank” is a bold choice for the Little Brown Theatre, that little blackbox theater the Villa Playhouse’s Bill and Marilyn Brown opened last year.
It’s a drama, first of all, and dramas don’t do nearly as well in this valley as comedies and musicals, financially speaking.
Furthermore, it’s a drama that takes place during the Holocaust. In one cramped attic. With no wacky neighbor.
So it’s a bold choice — and one the Little Brown Theatre pulls off remarkably well.
Directed by Bill Brown, the show features a realistically dismal set and a sturdy ensemble cast.
Based on the actual diaries of the 13-year-old girl who hid from the Nazis with her family for two years, the characters are: Anne herself (Erica Glenn; double-cast with Jessica Woahn), an imaginative and precocious child; her kind father (Mel Taylor) and mother (Wendy Asay); her older sister Margot (Genna Gardner; double-cast with Margret Milius); the perpetually wound-up Van Daans (Scott Tarbet and Marie Knowlton); and their son Peter (Jeff Carter; double-cast with Michael Crockett). A persnickety dentist named Mr. Dussell (James Gritton) joins them later, and they are assisted by Miep (Tisha Thornhill) and Mr. Kraler (James Glenn).
The eight hiders, all Jews, are stuffed away in a loft starting in 1942. The play dwells mainly on the problems one would expect to arise under such circumstances: a lack of food, constant fear, personal disagreements, and Anne and Peter’s growing fondness for one another.
Another bold decision was in casting teen-age girls as Anne, rather than young-looking older actresses. It was smart, though: Youthful honesty is liable to come only from actual youth.
Wendy Asay gives a believable motherly concern to the role of Mrs. Frank. Jeff Carter is also good as the low-key and nervous Peter Van Daan. His scenes with Erica Glenn as Anne are among the best.
This is a show that needs to be seen by everyone at least once, if just for its inspiring power. If you’ve seen it before, have another look at it here.
Though the characters in this play are mostly Dutch, the actors did not attempt European accents (which is fine, of course). The exception was when they said Anne's name: It came out "Onna Fronk." It amused me to no end.
How intimate is this theater? Well, the Franks have a pet cat in the attic with them, and an actual cat was used in the show. And I'm allergic to cats, and my eyes began to water when the cat was around. That's how intimate it is.