REVIEW: THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK
at Lowry’s Spotlight Theater
by Mona Lott
The latest study conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, has concluded that twenty three percent of American Millennials have never heard of the holocaust. It is a tragedy in itself that the pledge, “never forget” has become nullified by a lack of knowledge in the first place. Fortunately, The Diary of Anne Frank was adapted for the stage by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett giving theater companies like Lowry’s Spotlight Theater an opportunity to bring to life the memory and the history of one young Jewish girls story during the genocide in which almost six million Jewish men, women and children perished.
Directed by Katie Mangett, the story of Anne Frank and the seven others who hid from the Nazis in a secret annex above her father’s business is enduring and captivating, though it seems to miss the mark in recreating the fear, tension and horror of hiding for two years in the claustrophobic conditions that ultimately led to the death of everyone other than Anne’s father Otto.
Mr. Frank portrayed by Shane Delavan is congenial and warm bringing a Ward Cleaver vibe that easily explains why Anne was Daddy’s little girl in defiance of her mother. However, he pulls back on delving into the pressure cooker Mr. Frank was forced into, trying to survive the genocide while struggling to maintain the peace within the walls of the Annex and protect his family.
Julie Kaye Wolfe is a standout as Anne’s mother effectively channeling the terror of their condition while also displaying the sorrow and concern at the world her children are living in. Her climatic moment of catching Mr. Van Daan in an act of betrayal is as obstinate and brave as it is demonstrative of her love for her family.
Mr. Van Daan played by Claude Diener doesn’t fair as well, seeming to get trapped by the cantankerous nature of the character, never raising the fear level above his need for another cigarette. His wife, Mrs. Van Daan as portrayed by Erin Bell is petty and shrewd. Her heartbreak at losing a precious belonging to the selfishness of her husband is an empathetically dramatic moment displaying vulnerability and redemption for what in the wrong hands could be a hated character.
Benji Dienstfrey seems miscast as the Van Daan’s son Peter, simply appearing younger than the sixteen years of age he is portraying; however, he brings a much more mature characterization to Peter that is charming and adorable. His scenes with Lili Shuger as Anne Frank are brisk and enduring, revealing an innocence that woefully reminds one of how many children perished alongside the adults during this horrific tragedy.
Lili as the title character Anne is captivating and affable, bringing humor and charisma to the youngest Frank. At times she seems to rush just a little, but it serves her in adding to the impudence of her performance.
Mariel Goffredi is warm as Anne’s sister and brings an earthly grounding to the performance in great contrast to the particularity and distinctiveness that Leroy Leonard capably brings to the character of Mr. Dussel
The stage is brilliantly designed by Bernie Cardell, utilizing every inch of the small stage at The John Hand theater in a claustrophobic picture of what the actual annex might have felt like to Anne. Susan Rahmsdorff-Terry’s costumes are subdued and mute, successfully prompting not only the period but the mood as well.
Spotlight Theater’s production makes all the right moves in bringing The Diary Of Anne Frank to the stage, though ultimately coming in just a bit under the level of urgency and purpose needed to trap the audience in the story’s grip, it honors the much greater need of theater to resurrect these characters and propel us to “never forget.”
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK is moving audiences now through April 28th. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:00 p.m. with additional performances on Monday, April 9 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, April 28 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at www.thisisspotlight.com or by calling 720-530-4596. The John Hand Theater is located at 7653 East 1st Place, Denver, Colorado 80230
PHOTO CREDIT: Meghan Ralph