Most people may think they know what to expect when watching Ardmore Little Theatre’s “The Diary of Anne Frank,” but they should leave their preconceived notions at the door.
The story of the Holocaust shown through the writings of a 13-year-old Jewish girl who spent nearly two years in hiding with her family and four other people leaps from the pages of her diary and into real life, thanks to the talented offerings of the show’s cast, hand-picked by director Fred Collins.
This adaptation by Wendy Kesselman begins with the family first entering their new hiding place behind the building where Anne’s father, Otto Franks (Randy Simmons), works. With him are his wife, Edith (Monica Stolfa), and daughters, Anne (Joy Quary and Julie Grice) and Margot (Brandy Cruse).
Joining the Franks family are Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan (John White and Ashleigh Lee) and their son, Peter (Mike Carpenter) and later, the dentist, Mr. Dussell (Carl Clark).
Aiding the hiding families are Miep Geis (Sarah Alkire) and Mr. Kraler (Chuck Watterson), who bring them daily supplies and news of the outside world. The cast is rounded out by Nazi soldiers played by Tim Burson, Ted Conley and Dave Mordy.
Each actor brings a unique flavor to the story. Simmons instills in Otto a calming, steady, patriarchal figure for all of his charges, keeping the peace between warring factions inside the annex, while trying to quell the fears they have of the war raging outside.
Stolfa plays Edith as a saddened, pained woman who seems in angst by her family’s plight, and at odds with her perpetually optimistic daughter, Anne.
Anne is portrayed by both Quary and Grice the way she is meant to be — as a natural, bubbly, energetic girl excited just about the prospect of life, even in the worst of circumstances.
Quary shines in her interactions with the other characters onstage, perfectly natural in her demeanor, while Grice is at her best in Anne’s monologue vignettes, pouring into this vibrant girl a deep, caring heart that even has hope for the worst of characters.
Margot, in contrast to Anne, is a quiet, introspective girl, played with heart and feeling by Cruse, who seems to disappear completely inside Margot’s skin.
White and Lee are perfectly paired as Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan, warring husband and wife who are ever the sophisticates in unseemly times.
Though they battle each other throughout the show, they show their tender sides in walks down memory lane.
As their son, Peter, Carpenter exhibits a metamorphosis from a timid, shy, teenager to a young man on the verge of learning about real love with a vision of a future he will never have.
Page 2 of 3 - Their ever vigilant caretaker, Miep, is exactly as she is described by the characters — “when Miep comes, the sun always shines.” Alkire brings a bright, cheerful, positive presence to the dark annex, always with a smile and a story of the outside.
And Watterson’s Mr. Kraler is vigilant and strong, doing his best to protect and uplift his Jewish friends.
As Mr. Dussell, Clark is a genteel, bespectacled man in a three-piece suit, a bit refined and persnickety and sensitive at the same time.
And, even though they appear for only a short time, Burson, Conley and Mordy strike fear and despair into the hearts of the characters and the audience when they finally wrest the families from their hiding place.
This story of Anne Frank and her family precedes the devastation they each find in the concentration camps, as is told in heart-wrenching monologue at the end by Otto, the only one to survive.
Evoking emotion that audience members have pushed to the background all night, Simmons draws the angst and despair to the forefront as he recounts the fate of each of his family and friends. The telling will send chills up the spine, bring tears to the eyes and a lump to the throat.
Those who are apt to stay home because they don’t want to sit through a depressing, two-hour tale of human tragedy should take a leap of faith and watch this production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
Even though there is hopelessness, and the audience is already aware of the fate awaiting each of the characters at the end, it’s hard not to be drawn into the hope and anticipation they each have, looking forward to the day when they can walk again in the sunlight, experiencing their favorite indulgences, as simple humans, not as Jews.
And they will marvel at the optimism and forgiveness in the heart of a young girl who, even in the worst of circumstances, still believes that the good of man will prevail.
This compelling drama is made even more dramatic and timely by the addition of documentary video footage shown on the back wall of the set in various scenes throughout the play.
Collins’ vision has put a historical face on what could otherwise have been viewed as a semi-fictional telling of a true story.
And his inclusion toward the end of video footage of the real-life counterparts acted out on the stage gives audience members a closer grasp of the importance of the story told from the pages of a young girl’s private diary in one of man’s darkest hours.
Performances of “The Diary of Anne Frank” will continue at 7 tonight and Saturday, with a 2:30 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for students and can by reserved by calling the ALT box office at (580) 223-6387.
Page 3 of 3 - Quary will take the stage as Anne tonight and Saturday. Grice performed the opening-night show on Thursday and will resume the role on Sunday afternoon.