by Frances Goodrich &
Albert Hackett
adapted by Wendy Kesselman 
Arts Club Theatre Company
Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage
September 22 – October 23
604.280.3311 or 604.687.1644

The publication of Anne Frank’s diaries after the Second World War and the 1955 play based on them gave a human face to the Holocaust. 

The sheer numbers of the murdered, the death camp photos of piles of bodies and indistinguishable skeletal survivors had been numbing. But a young girl’s first-hand account of tenacity, deprivation, bravery, terror and optimism while hiding from the Nazis made the horror personal and immediate. Anne’s death in Bergen-Belsen gave added poignancy and power to her narrative.

Over the years, familiarity has somewhat diminished its power. We’ve come to think of it as a kids’ book and a young people’s play about saintly victims.

Playwright Wendy Kesselman’s new adaptation re-humanizes the inhabitants of the secret annex in Amsterdam where the Frank family, the Van Daans, and Dussel the dentist endured for two years, their experiences recorded in detail by the observant, imaginative Anne.  They all live vividly again, perfectly cast in Rachel Ditor’s exquisite Arts Club production which opens the season at the Stanley.

Crowded together in the confines of Ted Roberts’ elaborate set, beautifully lit by Marsha Sibthorpe, the eight Jews can’t speak or move during the daylight hours when workmen are in the building.  Their lives resume in the evenings when they try to construct a semblance of normality, supplied and protected by the righteous Dutch Gentiles Miep (Tasha Faye Evans) and Mr. Kraler (David Bloom).

But tensions wear on them, food runs short and tempers fray.  Fussy, neurotic Dussel (Sean Devine) is sometimes hard to take.  Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan (Bill Dow and Gina Chiarelli) can also be difficult, quarrelsome and critical, helping give the play its tragicomic texture of reality.  Anne finds her sister Margot (Anna Cummer) too perfect, dislikes her mother (Jennifer Clement) and idolizes her father (Richard Newman). And she mercilessly teases poor Peter Van Daan (Ryan Beil), though a teenage romance will blossom between them in a series of lovely scenes.  The work of this ensemble couldn’t be better.

In a delightful and richly nuanced performance, newcomer Anastasia Phillips plays Anne as a smart, bratty kid, funny and precocious like that other Anne of literary fame. Her enthusiasm for life can barely be contained by the walls of her refuge. As she physically matures and discovers her sexuality, Anne matures emotionally as well.  She shows a depth of understanding far beyond her years, accelerated by circumstances and the impending doom we know all too well is coming.

In light of what we see and hear on stage, the words of one of Anne’s final diary entries are both understandable and shattering: “I still believe in spite of everything that people are really good at heart.”

When this show ends, it feels almost obscene to applaud.

Jerry Wasserman


last updated: Friday, September 30, 2005 7:09 PM
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