REVIEW: The Diary of Anne Frank

In the closing moments of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s opening night, audible sobs resonated from all across the theatre.  Tears were shed on stage, too, but a good portion of the audience could be heard expressing their grief and sadness at the tragic story of the Frank family and their friends.  They were also likely – at least subconsciously – expressing those emotions about the far-too-much social injustice that continues in 2016.

If you, like me, are not as familiar with the story of Anne Frank (and like me, have pretended to know all about it), this play will bring you up to speed in just over two hours.  Jewish girl Anne Frank and her family (her father, Otto, her mother Edith, and her sister, Margo) are forced into hiding as the Nazis have invaded their home country.  Her father’s co-worker and friend, a Jewish sympathizer and his wife, help them hide in an annex at an office in Amsterdam. There they are joined by Otto’s business partner and his wife and son.  Later in the story, another man finds refuge with them.  They lived in this tiny hiding space for two years. During that time, thirteen year old Anne kept a diary, which is rich in history and has been studied by historians, English students, and most of the world for years.

Director Jeremy Dubin has assembled a brilliant cast to tell this story.  The energetic Courtney Lucien plays Anne with the same doe-eyed wonder we’ve seen from her previous characters.  One of my favorite actresses, Caitlyn McWethy, plays the shy, sweet Margo with restraint and patience while Regina Pugh embodies Edith Frank as much as anyone likely ever has.  Barry Mulholland is Otto and brings maturity, gravity, and sincerity to the stage.  The chemistry and love and honesty between all members of this family is unlike anything I’ve seen lately.  Each well-defined personality shines through and it is a testament to the director and the cast that no one upstages anyone else.  And given the quality of talent on this stage, that’s remarkable.  Also trapped in the attic are the always enchanting Kelly Mengelkoch, the consistently engaging Jim Hopkins, and the charismatic Kyle Brumley.  Billy Chace brings his neurotic charm in just the right dose.  Maggie Lou Rader pops in and out along with Michael Shooner, bringing the outside world into the annex and it’s a joy for the characters – and the audience – when they arrive.

There is no weak link in this cast.  And they operate as a true ensemble.  It’s an acting showcase.

And it’s a great debut for the new resident set and lighting designer, Justen N. Locke. This set is exquisite and makes tremendous use of the space.  And that final lighting effect . . . unreal.  Costume designer Stormie Mac keeps things authentic to the period while making the actors look their best.  And Douglas Borntrager’s sound design is as good as ever.

Even if you’ve seen another version of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK before or many times before this production demands to be seen.  It’s a different adaption than most have seen locally.  Wendy Kesselman has managed to compress all the important story elements and has even added some new information gleaned from the “unedited” diaries that make this a coming of age story set against the backdrop of the Holocaust.  And it’s infinitely interesting.

But most of all, it’s relevant for today.  And that might be the greatest understatement I’ve ever written.

THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK plays through October 1st at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company on Race Street in downtown Cincinnati.  Tickets and more information can be found here..  Some performances have already sold out so get your tickets now!