Joseph Grant, as Otto Frank, gives Kendra Phillips, his daughter Anne, a special gift. Photo by Dean Lapin.
There was no “best of times” – it was “the worst of times.”
When he came into power in 1933, Hitler was advised by his ministers of death and destruction that in order to accomplish his plan of world domination, and do so with the backing of the German people, he needed a scapegoat – one for the masses to blame for all their troubles so they would follow this maniacal Judas goat to their own destruction.
The Jews – the “Chosen People” – were chosen and the Holocaust became a reality.
Many foresaw the eminent future and fled to safer, saner climes. One of these was Otto Frank. He took his wife and two young daughters to the safety of the small neutral country of Holland. The Fuehrer’s grand plan to conquer the world engulfed The Netherlands in 1942 and the Frank family went into hiding.
Millions were caught up in the horror – but “millions” is abstract.
“The Diary of Anne Frank,” the current production at the Lakewood Playhouse, focuses not on millions but one small group’s attempt to survive the lunacy.
Wendy Kesselman’s new adaptation of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s poignant play brings reality to the era of unreality as seen through the eyes of a young girl who stated that, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
Director Naarah McDonald has captured the essence of the tight drama by weaving her actors about the stage so they just barely miss contact. Scenic Designer Erin Chanfrau enhances the cramped quarters by placing seven levels of stage in the intimate theatre while Scott Brown’s lighting design focuses the audience’s attention on the current area of importance. Ricky German helps tie all together with very realistic costuming.
This is an exceptionally well-balanced ensemble cast. The eight residents of the hidden room above Otto Frank’s place of business are on stage virtually all of the time. They instantly establish their status and relationships.
Kendra Phillips (Anne Frank) bursts on stage with the bounding exuberance of a pre-pubescent girl eager to begin a new adventure; the audience is caught up in her youthful fantasy of intrigue. Not only is she stunning in the role, but Phillips seems to age before our eyes during the two and a half years they are sequestered.
From the moment Joseph Grant (Otto Frank) enters the hidden chamber, it is obvious that he is the dominant member of the group. He is calm, concerned and silently forceful exuding power and understanding.
Charmee Beauclaire (Mrs. Frank) is aptly stoic and mildly bewildered when dealing with her fellows. It is instantly obvious that there is a distance between her and her younger daughter.
The fourth member of the Frank family is Emily Olson (Margot) the older daughter. She is suitably uncertain of where her future, if she has any, lay.
Frank invited the family Van Daan to join them in their self-imposed imprisonment.
Tom Birkeland and Dana Galagan are Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan. They offer the much need comic relief necessary for the audience to catch their breath from the tension.
Galagan is so very good as a materialistic, self-involved woman who sprinkles her love for her husband with almost constant bickering.
Birkeland, a long-time veteran of local theatre stages, is at his best. He plays his many-faceted role with excellent understanding. He is equally effective as the long-suffering husband slinging one-liners at his wife, the weak and frightened food thief or the angry complainer. He is a joy to watch.
Dixon King (Peter) nicely supplies the eventual budding love interest for Anne. His cat, realistically played by Crew, the Playhouse’s theatre cat, accompanies him.
The final member of the group is John Kelly (Mr. Dussel) the dentist who is allowed to join them after their initial confinement. Kelly does an admirable job of evolving his character from grateful to persnickety to friendly to demanding.
Alex Newman is Miep, the band’s contact to the outside world and John Pfaffe as Mr. Kraler, another Frank employee who assisters her. Both are believable in their roles. The final cast members Spencer Fish and Steven Andrew Shepard play Nazi soldiers.
This is a solid production of an extraordinary tale, one which must be relived periodically so it can never be forgotten.
Anne’s fervent wish, as written in her diary in 1944 was, “If God let’s me live, I’ll make my voice heard.”
In March 1945, when she was 15 years old, Anne Frank died in Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, just months before the camp was liberated.
Her life ended but her voice will never end; it resounds from the combined consciences of the world.
Don’t miss her enthralling story at the Lakewood Playhouse through March 4, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 and Sundays at 2 p.m. There are two Thursday 8 p.m. performances, a Pay-What-You-Can February 15 and an actor’s benefit March 1.
For more information or reservations, call (253) 588-0042 or go online to www.lakewoodplayhouse.org. The Lakewood Playhouse is in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center, next to the Pierce Transit bus terminal.
Submitted by Lynn Geyer