Rubicon Theatre Company’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank represents another chapter in the constant reinvention of this inspiring story of a young girl’s journey to womanhood, cut short by her death from typhus in the Dachau Concentration Camp. This current production unfolds on Thomas S. Giamario’s uncomfortably cramped yet perfectly designed set and presents the trials of Anne Frank and her family as they hid from the Nazis in Amsterdam.
This production, adapted by Wendy Kesselman and directed by James O’Neil, is at times poignant, at times hyperbolic and at times deeply humanizing in its treatment of how people react under the most intense pressure. The straightforward narrative (which takes the audience from the day the Franks and the Van Dams hide in the annex, to the crushing day the Nazi’s discover the refugees and arrest them) is handled in a quite matter-of-fact and coherent manner by O’Neil’s direction.
Anne, played superbly by fourteen year-old Chicagoan, Lauren Patton, is presented as a somewhat obnoxious girl at first, but transforms into the thoughtful, blossoming young woman audiences have come to identify with over the years. At one point in Act II she says to Peter, played somewhat stiffly by Jesse Bernstein, “I’ve never really had a friend — not someone I could confide in.” Her budding sexuality is shown in this private moment and in further references to her menstrual cycle, both elements left out of the original book and productions but subsequently inserted in the stage production by Kesselman.
The audience is privy to a number of tender moments, particularly when Anne looks out the blacked-out window and wonders when the chestnut tree on the street will blossom again. The connective tissue between text and reality is apparent here when one considers the recent news that the chestnut tree in question is blighted by disease and will be cut down any day now. Fortunately plans are afoot to plant a cutting from the original tree on the same patch of ground so the cycle of history may be unbroken.
Humanity is at the core of the production and the mundane issues that arise over such matters as who gets to use the bathroom first, who is the fairer when it comes to apportioning the food and who should get to sleep on their own become moments of sincere interaction. The acting is handled excellently by the strong cast members, particularly Rubicon stalwart and co-founder, Karyl Lynn Burns as Mrs. Frank, and Bruce Weitz who was spot-on in his portrayal of her husband, Otto Frank, giving the character a gravitas and humanity that elevated the sometime manic moments of chaos and strife between the claustrophobically-housed families.
In the closing scene, when the Nazi’s arrive at the annex, the play fell into straight cliché as the actors playing the Nazis shouted “Raus! Raus” and “Schnell! Schnell!” in hokey German accents. This heavy-handedness spoiled the finish somewhat as at no other point in the play did any of the Dutch characters break into European accents. Nevertheless, the play ends on a splendid note as Otto Frank tells the story of his family and their demise in the months after their capture.