By Sheri Berger
The Diary of Anne Frank at The Lofte Community Theatre, Friday September 2, 2022 7PM
Experiencing this play is a must for all ages. It’s possible that people will immediately think this play is just a sad play. While it is a drama, and it is sad, this still isn’t exactly accurate. This play is authentic, moving, and has times where there is laughter and silliness, despite the underlying sadness and appalling conditions in this story. Based on the life of Anne Frank in Amsterdam during the Holocaust, it tells the story of her life through two years of living in hiding (from July 1942 to August 1944) with her family, a dentist, and another family of three.
Anne’s father, Otto Frank, owned a business in Germany, but Germany was passing Anti-Semitic laws that forbade Jewish citizens to own a business. In order to retain his company, he moved his wife (Edith) and two daughters (Anne and Margot) to Amsterdam, Holland to get away from the regime. Despite failed efforts to emigrate to the US, he ultimately found he didn’t move his family far away enough, and on July 5, 1942 his daughter Margot was called for deportation to a labor camp. It was then he knew their family had to go into hiding in the attic of his business which he had been preparing. He also went into hiding with his friend and employee, Hermann van Pels, his wife Auguste, and their son Peter. A Jewish dentist named Fritz Pfeffer later became the 8th member in hiding. Along with help from other friends, Miep Geis and Mr. Kraler, the eight of them barely managed to stay alive for two years.
You may feel that you know this story, and perhaps you were fortunate enough to have read the book when you were in school, or saw a movie or a segment on TV about it. But this is a story that should be revisited and not forgotten. It is a timeless piece that is still relevant today. The play was written specifically for viewers to go read the book that was published of her diary. The writers of the play were instructed not to quote Anne’s diary, but only to paraphrase from it so that people would go read her actual words. In the playwriters’ opinion, Anne lives in her diary only, and her diary is more than the writing of a normal teen. Anne was a talented writer, even at such a young age. She knew that it was possible her diary could be the basis for a book she could publish someday, and she had the writing talent to do just that. She would spend hours in her diary, writing and even reworking previous writings. She had a remarkably positive outlook on life, and even with all she endured, she believed people were innately good.
The Diary of Anne Frank brings Anne to life. You will still see a young teenage girl think, say and do all the “teenage things.” Being in hiding during a war and political and social unrest doesn’t change the fact that she was experiencing much of teenage life which we consider normal to experience. She has a combative relationship with her anxious mother (finely played by Melinda Mead,) and a closeness with her quiet-spoken father (played by B.J. Monson.) She had real feelings about her sexuality and her poor relationship with her mother. Anne revels in being outspoken and is the life of the party, unlike her demure sister Margot (played by Bella McAtee). Anne is unapologetically brazen and funny, and yet introspective and often wise. Lily Pope plays Anne in this production exquisitely. She is a talented young actress, and she brings Anne to life in all of her quirkiness and confidence.
All of the cast members in hiding hardly ever leave the stage, and each of them give an amazing performance. There is not one weak link in the chain of this cast, and they all come together to tell this story in a remarkable, authentic and heartfelt way. I was impressed with Holly McAtee, who played Mrs. Van Daan and also the really incredible screams she delivers. Holly portrayed her character in a very believable way, and you got the sense that Mrs. Van Daan had high expectations of the people around her. However, she could be fairly easy-going when her kind son, Peter (well played by Lucas Hrabik) and Anne had a “date” in the attic. All of the young people in this play, Lucas Hrabik, Lily Pope and Bella McAtee are at ease and comfortable on stage, and the three of them work well together to create each of their character’s distinctive personalities as the young people of this story.
Mr. Van Daan, who is a bit of a crumudgeon, was played by Randy Wallace, and he did a nice job of portraying his characters strengths, as well as his weaknesses. Ryan Lorchick played Mr. Dussel, the dentist, who became the 8th member of the household in hiding. Mr. Dussel and Anne’s relationship was a bit combative since they had to share a room together. Mr. Dussel is around 50 years old, so it is a bit awkward. But both Lily Pope and Ryan Lorchick portrayed this strange relationship well on stage.
Christa Dunker played Miep Gies, one of the two “helpers” and her kind expressions and demeanor was a bright spot in the play. Aaron Spracklin played Mr. Kraler, one of Otto’s employees of his spice company, and long-time friend. It is amazing to think that the Frank family had such loyal friends willing to put themselves and their beliefs on the line to keep them alive.
B.J. Monson, who played Otto, was particularly invested in the play and his role. Though this is not the first production for Mr. Monson, it is one of his largest roles yet. He clearly identifies with Otto as a father and as a person. He has an emotional monologue at the end of the play, which he powered through and delivered his innermost feelings along with the dialogue.
The additional police characters of the play are Scott Pope, Jeff Johnston and Evan Dunker which had a brief time on stage.
Throughout the play you will hear actual audio of radio during this time, and the play will transport you into the era of the way people received communication. The characters were unable to go outside for two years, and the only news they heard was from their helpers, Miep and Mr. Kraler. For the younger generations, it will be different to imagine a world in which the things that are happening in the world are not available to them unless it’s through a printed newspaper, radio broadcast or an actual person. One by one, the family does hear of people they knew and loved being taken and not seen again. For some, they will hear that someone has passed, for others, they may not hear anything at all. They will hear of labor camps, but not know what that really means. It is a play we must not forget. We must not ban this story or look away. We must be able to recognize behaviors of the past, so cruel and inhumane, so they are not repeated. However, don’t let the intense subject of this play keep you from going. There are plenty of light-hearted, funny, and loving moments which make it an endearing story and it only adds to the real-ness of the people involved.
The stage itself is simple and minimal, yet because of the way the actual attic in Amsterdam was designed, the set was still complex with several “rooms.” Like many of the Director’s Choice plays that Director Kevin Colbert so eloquently produces, the play doesn’t need elaborate set pieces and expensive bells and whistles to tell the story. The performances that were delivered were everything a person needs to understand and become engulfed in this story.
The Assistant Director was Chris Berger, as he delves into his first time in a Directing role. The Stage Manager was Aaron Spracklin, Properties by Sheila Hansen and Aaron Spracklin, Costumes by Janet Sorenson, Sound Design by Dan Moses Schreier, Sound Board by Tom Sorenson, Light Board by Evan Dunker, Lighting Design and Technical Director by Kevin Colbert. Scenic Design was done by L.A. Lager and ScenoGraphics, and was adapted for the Lofte stage by Kevin Colbert. The Set Crew was Frank Milder, Kevin Colbert, Jim Wolcott, Scott Pope, Ken Patry, Kevin Holdorf, Jeff Johnston, and Chris Berger.
The play was written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, and newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman.
If you go: Six shows remaining: September 3, 4, 8, 9, 10 & 11th. Thursday-Saturday shows are at 7PM and Sundays are at 2PM.
Sheri Berger is a business minion, dog momma, arts groupie, and co-host of the Platte River Bard Podcast with her husband, Chris Berger.
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