'The Diary of Anne Frank' at Appleseed Productions: A moving piece of reality

Review: The stellar performances and somber tone of 'The Diary of Anne Frank,' which runs through November 1, delivers an unforgettable emotional resonance.

Editor's note: This review originally appeared at Green Room Reviews on October 18, 2014.

The Diary of Anne Frank, the story of the Jewish teenager who spent two years in hiding from the Nazis only to be found and sent to a concentration camp, is a familiar one – but it makes for a moving piece of theatre nonetheless.

The second play of Appleseed Production’s season, directed by Lois Haas, opened on Friday night at the Atonement Lutheran Church with about 50 people discussing the show with their son, daughter, friend or co-worker that they came with. The perks of community theatre: Everybody knows everybody, and it’s a comfortable atmosphere.

The production takes place in the church basement, the perfect claustrophobic environment one needs to feel the attic of the 1942 Amsterdam building where the Franks were hidden.

The set was skillfully constructed to display the cramped attic with little to no space for the eight people hiding there. The creaky floor and dull furniture added to the moldiness of the space.

The play opens with an exhausted Mr. Frank, Anne’s father, in 1945, walking around the attic and breaking down at the sight of a white glove. Pregnant Miep walks in and begins to convince Mr. Frank not to leave his country and hands him his daughter, Anne’s, diary. Mr. Frank begins to read. The lights dim, and his voice is overtaken by the voice of a young Anne. His voice fades as Anne continues to read and appears on stage.

Welcome to July of 1942, when Hitler was at the peak of his power and many Jewish families went into hiding, just as the Frank and Van Daan familes do. The play revolves around the daily happenings in the attic through the eyes of Anne.

Fourteen-year-old Lauren Koss plays Anne Frank. Her transformation from being a noisy and chatty girl to a wise teenager is remarkable. But what is really noteworthy is her relationships with her family. Koss does a great job of playing daddy’s little girl with Robert Miller as her father and developing an understanding towards her mother, played excellently by Sharon Sorkin.

Sorkin’s performance is touching, a mother craving to understand her teenaged daughter during the dark times of the war.

The performances by the Van Daan family, with Theresa Constantine as Mrs. Van Daan, Keith Arlington as Mr. Vaan Daan and Luke Taranow-Bulatowicz as Peter, are commendable. Constantine provides moments of humor, and Bulatowicz does a good job of playing cat-loving shy and quiet Peter, who begins to open up only in the second act to Anne.

The production team has left no stone unturned to make this look as real as it can get. And when I mean real, I mean a real cat is on stage for the whole of the first act as Peter’s beloved Mouschi, and the flannel costumes and shift to woolens in the second half, indicating the onset of winter. These touches make this play as real as it can get.

The play ends back where it opened: a shattered Mr. Frank, mourning over his lost family, especially his Anne after reading her diary.

The Diary of Anne Frank is not a feel-good play. As I left the basement, I made a mental note not to watch this play again, only because I, like many others in the audience, was reduced to tears and am not willing to watch young Anne and Peter and their families disappear and think of the thousands that did during those terrible times.

Photo courtesy of Appleseed Productions.

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