Entering the Adventure Theater, the audience finds a two-story house with rooms on both levels. An attic area at one end can be shut off from the rest of the house. The audience already knows the story.
It is 1942. The Frank family enters, their gold stars identifying them as Jewish people, as people in danger.
Jason Ross is Otto Frank, protective of his family. Weslie Webster portrays a frightened, almost catatonic Edith Frank, his wife. DeAnna Etchison brings elder daughter Margot Frank alive. We meet the high strung, out-going, fun-loving Anne Frank. Her obvious rebellion against Nazi regulations shows as she tears off the gold star.
Although this family of four is to remain in this house and may not leave, they make an effort to keep a level of normalcy. Mr. Kraler, played by Skip Ritter, owns the house. Miep Gies, played by Caitlin Schaub, is also privy to their presence. These two vow to protect the Frank family. Soon the Van Daan family is brought into their hiding space. Mr. Van Daan is played by Bill Macchio, his wife by Patty Payne, and Peter Van Daan by Ransom Velker. Daniel Black brings us Mr. Dussel, who is a dentist.
Anne writes in her diary. She is trapped not only inside herself, inside the house but with these other people. Tensions rise, tempers fly. Anne and Margot try to celebrate as they sing Hanukkah songs. But how can they truly celebrate without gifts? Insightful and caring, Anne manages to create small offerings such as ear plugs for Mr. Van Daan, who is disturbed by the snoring around him.
Payne and Webster portray wives and mothers used to having control of their lives, accustomed to being protective of their offspring, in charge of the way their households are run.
Panic is just below the surface. Sirens are heard. Bombs are heard. Tensions rise as Act I ends.
The beginning of the second act marks one year in hiding. Medical problems have plagued them. Anne is growing. She can feel it inside herself. The presence of shy Peter Van Daan has an unexpected effect on her. She does not understand, she writes in her diary. Unexpectedly, there is a gift of a pair of red shoes. These adult shoes with heels speak to the changes inside her.
Although the fugitives wish one another Happy New Year, the tensions escalate. Payne, as Mrs. Van Daan, expresses anger, horror, loss as her husband takes her fur coat to sell. This was her final tie to the person she was, to her family. She flares at her husband, “You always know everything.”
Webster, as Edith Frank, admits there is no hope. She wants to get her family out. Her younger daughter is a mystery to her. Anne continues to be playful, happy, cheerful. Through it all, Anne can talk to her father. He seems to understand her but offers little understanding to his distraught wife. Daughter Margot is struggling to eat. She and her mother are lonely in the presence of one another. She longs for someone to understand her.
Peter Van Daan (Ransom Velker) is confused by his arguing parents. He does admire Anne.
Finally, after a year and a half in the same house, they begin to talk. As they listen to music, she “feels a great awakening in her whole body.” Meanwhile, the situation has become more dangerous every day. Someone has noticed a bookcase where a door used to be downstairs. Money and food are scarce. They must even steal bread. The little food, even rotten potatoes, is divided up. There is horror when it is discovered food is being stolen within the house. Trust is gone. Compassion is gone.
Finally, the invasion begins. They are going to be free. They look forward with joy to being outside, to fixing the meals they want. “If you are hungry, just hold on to me. I will soon be cooking all your old favorite things.”
Enter Austin Price, Zach Steele and Trey Norrod in Nazi uniforms. At gunpoint, they order the adults to go. There is laughter, dancing, music from the attic. The young people, too, are found.
All are taken away. The surrender is signed the next day, January 24, 1945.
Jason Ross gives a magnificent soliloquy at the end. Clearly shaken, he celebrates Anne's life and asks us to remember. I have cherished Ross' acting ability since 1996. Often seen as a comic, he skillfully makes us laugh. We witness a masterful actor who tears our hearts out as Ross ends the production.
This show runs through May 22. Ellie Burnett played Anne on opening night. She was tough, tender and funny. I hope to return to see Ella Frost who shares this demanding role. It is not an easy play to see. There are flashes of humor as Anne writes of these families living their daily lives. Those of us who are old enough have a responsibility to remember. Younger audiences, including upper elementary school children, will understand the implications of war from this show in ways that no textbook can convey.
Do call 484-5000 to order your tickets.