Recounting one of the most harrowing tales of dignity and resilience from the Holocaust, “The Diary of Anne Frank” has returned to the stage in a touching production, grounded by a remarkable performance by one of our area’s exciting, young talents in the title role.
For Reston Community Players, seasoned director Gloria DuGan has crafted a meticulously detailed production of this seminal piece, based on Anne’s own diary. First brought to the stage in 1955 and has been a staple ever since. In 2002, after a revised edition of the diary was published, the Anne Frank estate commissioned writer Wendy Kesselman to update the original dramatization by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. It is this revised, and in my opinion, superior script, that DuGan’s production uses. It condenses the action somewhat and removes the flashback device of the original, where Mr. Otto Frank returned to the hiding place after liberation from the concentration camps and discovers Anne’s journal. Now, the story begins as the Frank’s enter the secret annex above Otto’s factory, joined by the Van Daan family.
… a touching production, grounded by a remarkable performance by one of our area’s exciting, young talents in the title role.
I love this script because it highlights Anne’s diary entries, turning them into monologues, often taken from her actual words. This version is also not shy about Anne mentioning topics such as her female development and her fascination with the female form. Apparently, Otto was reluctant to include such passages in the original diary when it was published and these would have been undesirable topics for a young girl on Broadway, circa 1955. But these passages and exchanges show the true nature of Anne – a modern girl blossoming into a very modern woman – and her vivacious and mercurial personality shines through even more than in the original script. And these changes, I feel, make her tragedy even more poignant.
But it is the performance by Sophia Manicone that truly elevates the already touching story into a whole over level. Fully embodying the effusive, innocent, curious and creative young lady, Manicone’s performance of Anne is a revelation. I have followed Manicone’s career with great interest since she made a splash at age 11 as the homicidal musical star wannabe Tina Denmark in Ruthless! at Creative Cauldron. She has returned to the Herndon-based theatre several times and appeared on other stages throughout the DMV. She has the stage presence of a much older performer, which is amazing enough. From her first moments addressing the audience, through the scenes with her family or fellow teen-in-hiding Peter Van Daan, Sophia effortlessly brings every nuance to her portrayal of Anne Frank.
But she is not alone on the stage and the rest of the company is perfectly cast and impeccably suited to bring their characters to life. Michael Kharfen turns in charming, fully realized performance as Otto Frank. His father-daughter scenes with Manicone touch the heart. Madison Chase, another remarkable younger performer, provides a steady contrast to Manicone’s vivacious Anne, as Margot, the older and more settled sister. As listed in the program, Laura Russell is cast as Anne’s mother Edith, but due to an emergency, Judy Lewis stepped into Edith’s shoes for the opening performances. Lewis carried out the role with professionalism and brought a quiet intensity to the character, especially when playing scenes with Manicone. (Lewis did carry a script onstage but she knew the part well enough that I barely noticed her using it.) Having been involved in my own community theatre emergencies through the years – and even had to step into roles on a day’s notice – I commend Lewis for being more than a trouper so that the show could go on.
Offering steady support and more vivid characterizations were Michael Sherman and Lorraine Magee as Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan, who join the Frank family in hiding. Sherman, with an acerbic edge, and Magee, with a salty voice and pointed sense of humor, provide judicious moments of comic relief and the contrast to the steady and dignified Otto and Edith Frank. Logan Matthew Baker embodies the awkward and shy Van Daan’s son, Peter. Baker and Manicone share numerous scenes as Peter and Anne and each time, I believed these two trapped young people could have a world of possibilities ahead of them.
The final member of the annex’s secret residents is Mr. Dussel, a local dentist who joins them after the families have settled into their cramp quarters. Steven Palkovitz brings a quirky sense of humor and neurotic edge to his portrayal of the dentist.
As the helpers who assist the residents of the secret annex, Jessi Shull is a reassuring, breath of fresh air as Miep Gies; and Earle Greene is the efficient and big-hearted Mr. Kraler, Otto’s factory manager to tries to keep them all safe from danger. The cast is rounded out by Ian Mark Brown, Francis Kosciesza, and Kevin Harrington as the Nazi’s who ultimately turn the world of the Franks and the Van Daan’s upside down.
The stellar performances are further enhanced by the attractive period costumes designed by Judy Whelihan. Likewise, the detailed stage setting, recreating the secret attic room was fully realized by Maggie Modig, set designer, and a dedicated crew of volunteers. The lighting enhanced the action and provided the requisite mood, while the evocative sound design and effects by Stan Harris (originally by Dan Moses Schreier) gave both context and punctuation to the story.
All-in-all, Reston Community Players deserves sell-out audiences for this production, which celebrates the human spirit to survive and preserves the memory of one of the most remarkable and touching stories from the horrible period of German occupation and the Nazi’s desire to eradicate the Jews of Europe. The play ends with one of Anne Frank’s most memorable lines, and one we can all take to heart at any time: “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.
Advisory: Onstage smoking is used during the performance, and there is mild adult language.
“The Diary of Anne Frank,” produced by Reston Community Players, through March 14, 2020, at CenterStage, Reston Community Center – 2310 Colts Neck Road. Call the box office at (703) 476-4500 or click here.