by Beki Pineda

THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK – Written by Wendy Kesselman; Directed by Christy Montour-Larson. Produced by the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities (6901 Wadsworth, Arvada) in repertory through May 17. Tickets available through  720-898-7200 or arvadacenter.org.

In German, a Kesselman is a maker of copper pots or kettles – in other words, a tinker. Wendy Kesselman tinkers just a bit with this familiar script based on the diaries written by Anne Frank during her isolation with her family during WWII. The original play that we’ve all come to know was written by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, a very successful playwriting duo, in 1956, only ten years after the death of Anne. Kesselman includes most of the scenes that have grown familiar to all theatre goers over the years, but adds sections of Anne’s writing that explore her growing sexual awareness and her true feelings about some of her fellow captives. Some of these passages had been kept from publication by her father who edited the diaries into the first published edition.

In removing the always awkward first scene of the original version which started the play with Mr. Frank returning after his own release from captivity to the annex where they had spent two years before being discovered by the SS, Kesselman made the opening scenes the more natural arrival of the participants to the house at the beginning of their experience. The scenes we love – the fur coat incident, the Hanukkah gifts, the burgeoning romance with Peter, Anne’s arguments with Dussel – are supplemented by some interesting new twists to the script. The radio plays a more important part in this script, being their source of information about the world outside and the war. Dussel is married in this script; Mr. Van Daan, while still being the “villain” of the group, has a new humanity, a softer side. We see him carving a menorah for their holidays and he seems genuinely sorry about the fate of the fur coat. Mrs. Van Daan still comes across as a woman fighting against growing older by flirtatious behavior, but seems to mellow more as the years go by. A dental scene was added for Mr. Dussel. The ending – always horrendous – is made even more poignant by adding not only the welcome news of the pending liberation, but also by an unexpected feast of strawberries. But one small but powerful bit I really missed. In the original script, Mrs. Van Daan greets Anne’s arrival back in the living room after a “date” with Peter in the attic with an all-knowing “A-Ha!” that always stopped the show.

The logistics of this script are always difficult to arrange. Everything used in the course of the performance has to have a storage space on the stage when it starts. A few things are brought in by Miep and Mr. Kraler who are their outside contacts and helpers. But for the most part, everything has to be there from the beginning since there are so few opportunities to leave the stage to grab food, books or other props. Because of seeing the show so many times, I was watching but did not see the outside delivery of anything. Also there is so much “dead” time for many of the actors while they are on stage but not actively engaged in the current scene. This cast, under the guidance of Director Christy Montour-Larson, were kept busy every moment they were on stage with activities that were appropriate and natural. They were knitting or sewing or reading or writing or, in the case of Mr. Dussel, polishing his dental equipment. They automatically took their shoes off at the appropriate “quiet” times. At one point, Mrs. Van Daan and Mrs. Frank sat side by side knitting like twin Madame DeFarge’s.

It is a testament to the talent and commitment of this cast that they managed to live within the logistics of the script and make it all seem natural in a confined space. They all stayed on the set during the intermission, continuing to live their lives as though the audience wasn’t moving around them to get to the lobby. Clothes got changed on the set and in the bathroom; beds got made; the next scene got prepared, and the cast rested while waiting for the return of the audience. It is a testament to the talent of Brian Mallgrave, the Scenic Designer, who created the cramped living quarters but still found ways to “hide” everything that they needed to perform the story. The prop shop, headed by Meghan Markiewicz, found all the realistic 1940’s set dressing and essential props, like the dairies. The costumes designed by Clare Henkel added to the authenticity of the production while the Lighting Design by Shannon McKinney added drama and tenderness to the evening. The occasional interruption by outside noises of Storm Troopers marching and sirens going by, the authentic sounding radio broadcasts, and the low-playing musical background in a Sound Design by Jason Ducat also enhanced the production.

These cast members are the 2019 Black Box Repertory company which means we get to see them in two more productions yet this spring. While Darrow Klein only performs in this piece of the rep, she is an absolutely perfect Anne. Knowing that she can’t possibly be only fifteen, she nevertheless displays both the exuberance of optimistic youth and the fear inherent in living in confinement. She also looks surprisingly like the real Anne. She is joined by Emily Paton Davies who plays down her natural beauty to near dowdiness to play her mother; Larry Cahn as the gentle soul that is Otto Frank, and Annie Barbour as her quiet loving sister. The Van Daan’s are the bigger than life Abner Genece and Emma Messenger with their son Peter being played by fresh out of college Daniel Crumrine.  Zachery Andrews puts aside his leading man good looks to bring humility and age to Mr. Dussel. In smaller but important roles as the outside helpers, Regina Fernandez is Miep and Lance Rasmussen is Mr. Kraler.

It will be SO MUCH fun to see them come together as the next two productions are opened. THE MOORS – a comedy set in the 1840’s – and THE BASIN STREET SOCIAL CLUB – a remake of a Restoration Comedy set in a modern day Mardi Gras – make up the remainder of the repertory season this spring. You will have to consult the calendar on the Arvada Center’s website to see what is playing when. But it will be worth your while to see them all and see this powerful group of actors perform in very different roles in all three.

A WOW factor of 9!!