When a production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” is done right, the audience leaves the theater feeling a sense of despair tinged with a touch of hope.
The creative team at Prime Stage Theatre is doing it right.
The show, which runs through May 13 at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side, uses Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s original stage adaption of the book, “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank, which premiered on Broadway in 1955. It went on to win the Tony Award for best play that year, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for drama, and opened in seven cities in Germany and in Amsterdam in 1956.
The cautionary message of the play is lamentably timeless, and therefore “The Diary of Anne Frank” is a vital piece of theater which should be done often. Kudos to Prime Stage for taking this on.
The set of this show is crucial, and Jonmichael Bohach’s detailed design successfully provides the audience with the feel of the claustrophobic space in which eight people lived for more than two years.
Large screens hover above, and between scenes they project sepia images of World War II Europe, superimposed with excerpts from Anne’s diary — handwritten and translated into English — while the spunky Madeline Dalesio as Anne narrates the texts.
Dalesio, 13, is the same age as was Anne when she entered the annex. It’s a nuanced role, which the young actor ably handles. Her Anne arrives on stage as an effervescent, chatty moppet, but evolves into a self-aware older teen who gains insight into, and is able to show empathy for, the inner turmoil of her family members and housemates.
The ensemble in “Anne Frank” has a yeoman’s task, with each of the eight performers that portray the housemates constantly on stage for almost the entire two-hour duration of the show. There are no breaks for these actors — just as the actual housemates were continuously together for two years — and the performances of Prime’s players are focused and impassioned even when they have no dialogue.
Even though we all know how this story plays out for those in the annex, Wayne Brinda’s direction nonetheless builds a foreboding sense of suspense, and when the menacing footsteps of the Nazis are heard coming for the Franks and their guests, it is hard to not to hope it’s all a mistake. Yet, as the show reveals humanity at its most evil, Anne’s optimistic words continue to echo: “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are good at heart.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.