Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 1, 2017

The Diary of Anne Frank

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
through November 19, 2017
by Barbara Stroup

Photo by Curt Henderson
Multiple rooms on two levels, a loft, stoves, table, sink, six beds, dining table and chairs, are all on view to the audience as they enter Playhouse on Park for this superb production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” – making the claustrophobia apparent even before the play begins. The Frank and Van Daan families shelter here for over two years in their doomed attempt to avoid Nazi persecution.

Concentration shifts quickly from the set however, when Anne enters. Isabelle Barbier, a -mature 26-year-old, is perfectly cast. She captures the voice, motions, and physical presence of the 12-year-old who enters the annex, as well as the maturing adolescent who struggles with the emotional and hormonal changes that soon follow.

As Otto Frank, Frank van Putten embues his character with qualities ranging from calm, gentle authority to the optimism his family needs to maintain their own sanity. The Van Daan couple are played by Lisa Bostnar and Allen Lewis Rickman. Through their occasional quarrels that shock the quiet Franks, these actors are able to show both the complexity of their own despair and their conflicted attachment to each other and their son, Peter. Dussel was a dentist who joins the families later, and is ably played by Jonathan Mesisca.

Alex Rafala as Peter Van Daan, becomes Anna’s focus as her adolescence begins. He has also become captivated by her, and in the most touching moment of their connection, affirms her with “You’re pretty”-- how one hopes Anne might have heard those words from a “beau” this one time. Edith Frank’s worry and desperation for her family are beautifully portrayed by Joni Weisfeld, and Ruthy Froch confidently presents Anne’s sister Margot as the quiet, well-behaved foil to Anna’s ebullience.

A Hanukkah celebration cements the work of this fine ensemble, when all seem to let the holiday help them accept their pseudo-family arrangement. Joel Abbott’s sound design puts a sudden and shocking end to the joy, and his contributions throughout the play enhance the atmosphere and the foreboding. The director also “staged” the intermission in a way that hammers home the theme of boredom in confinement.

The play now ends with a monologue by Otto Frank that details the horrific fate of his family after the Nazis have seized them. In a talkback after the performance, we learned that this was one of Wendy Kesselman’s changes to the original 1950’s script. By his own account after the war (he was the only survivor), Otto Frank had twice requested – and was refused - United States asylum for his family. The red plaid diary became his focus for the rest of his life, and has been read by 30 million people.