Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Roving Pittsburgher Report, PPT Opens 2015-16 Season with A Diary of Anne Frank.

PPT Opens 2015-16 Season with 

A Diary of Anne Frank.

By Megan Grabowski

Pittsburgh Public Theater’s (PPT) 2015-16 inaugural show; The Diary of Anne Frank is a highly emotive performance.  Running approximately three hours, the story does not need synopsized.  Most of us, young and old, are familiar with the chronicles of Anne Frank.  She and her family spent two years in hiding during the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands during WWII. The play is based on her diary which was discovered after her death in a Nazi concentration camp.  In her diary she confessed her adolescent thoughts, dreams, fears and desires as well as those pertaining to her persecution because she was Jewish.  Anne’s diary was first published in Amsterdam in 1947 and soon became so popular that Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett recreated the accounts as an expressive tribute to her life.  

As the audience we are voyeurs watching, with a strange sense of intuition, the fate of eight people unfold before us.  Producing Artistic Director Ted Pappas has reimagined a time and place from history which allows anyone brave enough to bear witness an opportunity to examine this moment in history. 

The play opens with Otto Frank, played by Randy Kovitz, wobbling up
 Remy Zaken as Anne Frank
the attic stairs, returning to the annex above the warehouse for a final goodbye.   He meanders throughout the historically designed set gently touching items and studying the remains of his last home before being captured by the Nazi’s. The set mimics the actual floorplan of the attic space where he dwelled with his wife and two daughters, Anne and Margot.  The stage is arranged with antiquated furniture and bedding which add to the sense of time.  He is accompanied by Meip, a young Dutch woman sensitive to the Jewish cause who assisted the Frank family in securing a hiding place. Her compassion and kindness is exhibited as she escorts Mr. Frank to his family’s last residence and gently encourages him to read the discovered diary. Meip is Kelsey Carthew’s professional stage premiere. Her supporting role as a connection to the outside world for the household is essential and soul nourishing.  

Meip and Ken Bolden, as Mr. Kraler, each play the part of minor characters yet their presence is felt on stage despite their physical appearances. These characters are the cord which connects the diary entries of a 13 year old girl, relaying everyday life, to the historical events that ultimately generated the possibility of the play. 

Randy Kovitz as Otto Frank, Remy Zaken as Anne Frank and Christine Laitta as Edith Frank
Kovitz an experienced actor of both stage and television is beautifully animated.  His face twists with inconsolable grief as he recites what is written in his daughter’s diary.  As the lone survivor of his family, his pain is evident and he shakily speaks his daughter’s notes.  The story begins with Mr. Frank reading out loud then the voice of a young girl begins to filter into the theater.  The two voices meet and simultaneously narrate for a moment then only one voice can be heard, that of a young girl.  This ethereal moment reminds us of who the author of the diary really is.  So, the splay continues in Anne’s voice, with her words from her ideas, her impressions, and her experiences.  As spectators, our imaginations are instantly transported. 

Zaken’s performance as Anne is a poignant personification of a young girl. We witness the pain and frustrations of Anne as she strives for independence from her mother, Mrs. Frank, played by Pittsburgh native Christine Laitta and older sister, Margot played by local performer Erika Cuenca. Despite the living conditions in the attic or the frequent disapproval she receives from the other household members, Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan, their son Peter and Mr. Dussel, Anne never gives up expressing her own personality.  She laid her head on her father’s shoulder when seeking solace and never stops believing in a better world for all. Zaken’s rendition of a young girl, sometimes playful, sometime adversarial and sometimes introspective is profound.  She effortlessly conveys the image of Anne as a child in all her moods while continually maintaining the innocence of a child.

Daniel Krell cast as Mr. Dussel, an older gentleman who joins the household half way through their hiding.  He brings the small bit of comic relief a drama of this nature allows.  His frustration toward living in captivity and sharing sleeping quarters with a child are expressed exceptionally well.  His rebukes at Anne’s childish behavior are just tolerable because we know he tries to mask his fear behind his intelligence.   Mr. Dussel is not a likable person, but Krell’s portrayal is powerful.  Despite his near constant conflicts with Anne, the humanity of his character cannot be denied. 

 As Anne grows and matures she starts to bond more with her sister Margot, with a do-gooder, mother’s helper, quiet and studious personality; the exact opposite of herself.   Cuenca, cast as Margot, does not have much to say, but her presence as a strong supporting cast member is made known during the scenes with Anne when she helps her dress and experiment with hairstyles for a ‘date’ with Peter.  David Edward Jackson, cast as Peter, the awkward and introverted teen who initially spends his time alone with his cat, eventually becomes an essential confidant to Anne.  His depiction of a young man struggling to make sense of his world is refined and his blossoming interest in Anne as a young woman is an honest transition. Zaken and Jackson make a dynamic couple, telling the world, despite all the hate and fear, there can be love and beauty.  Their relationship is the polar opposite of Peter’s parents’.  

Remy Zaken as Anne Frank and David Edward Jackson as Peter Van Daan
Mr. Van Daan played by stage and film actor David Wohl and Mrs. Van Daan, played by veteran Pittsburgh performer Helena Ruoti spend the early part of the show criticizing Anne for her liveliness and sass.   Wohl depicts a nervous and emotionally detached man who as the performance progresses spends more time concerned with cigarettes and money than his own family.  Mrs. Van Daan disgusts the household with her blatant flirtatious acts toward Mr. Frank.  Ruoti is a brilliant dramatic actor.  Her role as a temperamental and pretentious woman appears effortless.  When Mr. Van Daan plays tug of war with his wife’s beloved fur with intentions to sell it, she throws a terrific tantrum, flopping across her bed and wailing.  She grips her coat as her husband rips it from her hands.  He hands the coat to Meip with instructions to sell it, and then coolly requests she buy him cigarettes.  This scene, at first, is humorous.  It seems absurd for Mrs. Van Daan to keep the fur, and her reaction to losing it is melodramatic but no one in the audience laughed.  As bystanders, we begin to acknowledge life under the tense circumstances. 

Laitta as Mrs. Frank is the epitome of devoted wife and mother.  Her role as peacekeeper and protector of all is outstanding.  Her expressions of disheartenment by Anne’s obvious favoritism toward her father are candid and her struggle to maintain her role as a parent even as the opportunities to do so diminish are conveyed with passion.   

We know the story.  The ending is apparent, (you can’t change history).  It is the talent of the cast that truly make this performance worthwhile.  
The Diary of Anne Frank plays through October 25, 2015.  For tickets please visit :

Reviewed by Megan Grabowski

Positively Pittsburgh Good News Reviewer, Professional writer, Social-Media Junkie, Community Fundraiser and Pittsburgh Enthusiast.

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