Cleveland Play House’s ‘Diary of Anne Frank’ captures its audience
Dead absolute silence…that was the audience reaction following Otto Frank’s (Rick D. Wasserman*) impassioned epilogue at the conclusion of Cleveland Playhouse’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank now on stage in the Outcalt Theatre at Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Ohio.
The silence hung in the thick air until a single hand clapping began that built to a crescendo as the entire audience rose to their feet as one to pay tribute to the extraordinary cast and director Laura Kepley for this gripping portrayal of a monumental book.
The mood for the play is dramatically set by Scenic Designer Robert Mark Morgan even as you enter the somber interior of the Outcalt Theatre with barbed wire encircling the upper walkway. With the play being staged in three quarter round, front row seats are literally inches from the stage action that represents the factory annex that served as the Frank’s hiding place along with some friends and later a Jewish dentist who was on the Nazi deportation list.
In 1933, as Adolph Hitler came to power Otto Frank escaped the turmoil of his home country of Germany and moved his young family to Amsterdam, Holland where he had a successful factory partnership with Johannes Kleiman (known in the play as Mr. Kraler). When Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940 Frank transferred ownership of the factory to his non-Jewish friends and as Jews began being rounded up (Otto’s oldest daughter had been ordered to report for deportation to a work camp) the family went into hiding on July 6, 1942 with the help of Kleiman, Miep Gies, Victor Kugler and Bep Voskuijl.
The Frank family consisted of Otto (Rick D. Wasserman*), his wife Edith (Lise Bruneau*), older daughter Margot (Sarah Cuneo*) and youngest daughter Anne (Annie Fox*). They were joined by friends Hermann van Pels, known in the play as Mr. van Daan (Bruce Winant*), his wife Auguste (Laura Perrotta*) and son Peter (Yaron Lotan*). Later, Jewish dentist Fritz Pfeffer, known in the play as Albert Dussel (Lee Wilkof*) arrived and was welcomed into the sanctuary.
*Member of Actors Equity Association
Life in the cramped quarters was strictly regulated. When the factory was in operation from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. no noise was allowed and shoes had to be removed. Although Miep did her best using black market ration books and shopping at multiple shops, food was extremely scarce. As the days turned to weeks, months and years tensions began to run high especially when news of the allied invasion was broadcast.
The diary and papers that Anne kept was left behind in the annex after their capture and rescued by Miep Gies who kept them hidden until she returned them to Otto Frank who was the sole survivor of the eight. It was published in Dutch in 1947. Since then it has be translated into 70 languages with over 30 million copies sold worldwide. The play which premiered on Broadway in 1955 won a Tony as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The 1959 film won three Academy Awards. The Cleveland Play House production uses the original Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett adaptation of the book as adapted by Wendy Kesselman.
The CPH production’s cast of thirteen includes a total of eleven Actors Equity Association members who give their all. Even during the fifteen minute intermission, the players remain on stage going through life without interruption in their self imposed prison.
Truly outstanding performances are given by all of the actors as they become their characters to a remarkable degree. Even the three menacing Nazis (Paul Bugallo, Randy Merrill* and Peter Hargrave) who stand guard above the audience add a sinister element to the evening. Special mention to the set design that encompasses the entire theater by Robert Mark Morgan with details such as running water in the sink truly sets the scene. Costumes by David Kay Mickelsen are spot on. The atmosphere of war time Amsterdam is further carried through with the lighting by Mary Louise Geiger and sound by Daniel Perelstein as a terrifying air raid attack is enacted.
While there is no adult language a strong adult theme prevails and should be recognized when deciding on whether to bring children to the show.
As the play moves on, we the audience begin to feel the claustrophobic conditions that these eight had to endure for years. Although at times comical, poignant, spiritual and dramatic it never wavers from the theme of fear and repression of innocents. In effect we ourselves become prisoners of the barb wire shrouded theater. An excellent example of true to life theater and a must see show for all.
The Cleveland Play House production of the Diary of Anne Frank will be on stage through November 19, 2017. Tickets may be purchased online at www.playhousesquare.com, by phone by calling (216) 241-6000 or by stopping by the Playhouse Square Box Office located in the outer lobby of the State Theatre at Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Ohio.