Emotional impact strong in MLT's 'Anne Frank'

By R. Andrew Strickland
(Originally published in the Macon Telegraph, February 14, 2006.)

The powerful tragedy of the Holocaust is told in the history books as a series of painful statistics. Millions of Jews were seized from their homes and transported to detention centers and concentration camps during World War II. Many of these detainees were killed in ways that shock and disgust the world to this day. The survivors were haunted forever by what they saw and endured.

Nothing has put a face to this tragedy more than the writings of Anne Frank, a teenage girl who chronicled the years she spent hiding from the Nazis.

This touching story of vibrant life in the shadow of death is told now in a new production by Macon Little Theatre. The script by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, with a new adaptation by Wendy Kesselman, takes audiences into the crowded, hidden rooms the Frank family shared with four other Jews in Amsterdam, Holland.

Aiden Carter takes on the title role of Anne Frank. Portraying Anne's growth from a slightly obnoxious and shallow girl to a thoughtful teenager, mature beyond her years, is quite a challenge for an actress. Carter plays young Anne with a frenetic pace that is effective, if a bit forced and hard to understand. But her work matures as her character does. By the second act, Carter finds a wonderful Anne who is inspiring in her strength and heart-breaking in her humanity.

The other members of the Frank family are ably performed by Larry Schlesinger (Otto Frank), Lisa Becker (Edith Frank) and Allie Becker (Margot Frank.) Schlesinger, a rabbi in real life, is slightly recitative in his delivery, but he makes up for this with a heart-felt portrayal. The warmth of Otto Frank comes through clearly in Schlesinger's performance, providing a strong emotional base for the production.

The rest of the cast has strong moments throughout the production. Michael Becker gives a properly understated performance as Peter van Daan, the shy young man who becomes Anne's love interest in hiding. Much like Aiden Carter, Becker's work is especially strong in the second act. Mike Forbes and Mary "Rusty" George are more than adequate as Peter's parents. The van Daans can come across as unlikable with their bickering and selfish motives, but Forbes and George succeed most in bringing the other sides of these characters to light: humor, desperation and weakness. Dan Byrd effectively rounds out the residents of the hidden annex as cantankerous dentist Mr. Dussel.

While the cast as a whole struggles with some of the more emotional moments of the show, they succeed where many other productions of this play fail. Much of the strength of "The Diary of Anne Frank" is found in the moments when the characters do not talk. Whether representing the oppressive silences of hiding or the terrible inability to communicate with one another, the cast shines. Their physical performances are quite good, representing the day-to-day activities with commitment.

Director Joe Ginnane has made the most of this strength of his cast, allowing the action to continue during intermission. Rarely is intermission such a vital feature of a production. Participating with the cast in that extended period of silence and controlled action was very moving - a full realization of what Anne and her compatriots endured on a daily basis.

The scenic design, by MLT technical director Zach Broome, is nothing short of exceptional. Broome has taken a constructivist approach to the set with cut-away walls revealing the various rooms of the hidden annex. Despite the openness of the set, the claustrophobic nature of the small hidden area is clearly communicated. The effect is stunning and strongly enables the story-telling of the play. The set is made even more impressive with the lighting of J.P. Haynie. Haynie makes the most of the dramatic moments of the production with a wonderful use of silhouette and shadow.

Ginnane's biggest success with this production is in its emotional impact. No history book can make an audience feel the past like a well-performed play. MLT's "The Diary of Anne Frank" makes for an emotionally devastating evening of theater and, more importantly, a reminder of the dangers of forgetting the past.

R. Andrew Strickland
Since 1/10/02
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