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The Diary of Anne Frank at Center REPertory Company Beautifully Tells the Enduring Tale of Hope and Humanity in the Face of Horrific Inhumanity

By Steve Murray

April 4, 2019


Eight people trapped in a storage attic hiding from the Nazis in war-torn Amsterdam. Like the passengers on the Titanic, knowing their eventual fate may seem like a dreary exercise in heartbreaking melodrama. But Center REP's sensational production of Wendy Kesselman's Tony-nominated adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank is wonderfully alive and full of vitality seen through the hopeful eyes of thirteen-year-old Anne, portrayed in a tour de force performance by Monique Hafen Adams.

Director Timothy Near masterfully illustrates the unimaginable horror of the situation; the air raids, Hitler's radio rants and the police sirens that may indicate imminent capture. Forced into the tiny space they would inhabit for almost two years, the Frank family, Otto, Edith, Margot and Anne share their lives with good friends the Van Daans (mother, father and young son Peter). Hidden by Miep Gies (Allison Quin) and Mr. Kraler (Paul Plain) bring them rationed food and supplies, and news from the outside.

An eighth character is added to the mix - dentist Mr. Dussel (Michael Patrick Gaffney), further adding to the claustrophobic atmosphere brilliantly realized in Nina Ball's multitiered sectional set design cluttered with cots, books and boxes. The audience is the fourth wall, witness to every daily movement and private moment of the characters. Anne addresses us directly, exposing the thoughts he diligently writes in her diary.

The tiny attic may be their prison, but it is transformed into a home by the will of the characters to retain some sense of normalcy and heritage. They celebrate Hanukah where Anne gives everyone a thoughtful, though meager gift. The girls sing the traditional song "Maoh Tsur", making it a defiant gesture of their very existence. Shared dinners, the eight over a small piece of cake and of course the squabble over the only private space, the WC, are beautifully presented.

Monique Hafen Adams delivers a star making performance, imbuing Anne with a youthful optimism as she reads her movie star magazines and dreams of becoming a writer and travelling to Paris. She's a typical thirteen-year-old; opposing her mother, doting on her father, annoying the other with her precocious jabbering. Her budding sexuality and attraction to sixteen-year-old Peter is a delight to behold.

The ensemble cast is solid through and through. Kevin Singer's Peter is shy and awkward, his father and mother (Michael Butler and Domenique Lozano) quibble but love each other, and Mr. Dussel (Michael Patrick Gafney) is abrupt, standoffish but becomes part of the extended family by osmosis. Margot Frank (Maya Michal Sherer) is the dancer and loving sister. Otto Frank (Victor Talmadge) is the solid glue that hold the group together, while his wife Edith (Marcia Pizzo) is the emotional, heart on her sleeve counterpoint.

The play is full of tender moments of humor. It's a testament to indomitable will of people put in extraordinary circumstances and striving to retain their humanity. Exquisitely lit by Kurt Landisman, realistic sound design by Teddy Hulsker and authentic costuming by Jessie Amoroso, this production is a much-needed witness to the human spirit. Persecuted by their religious beliefs, their plight can be seen today in continuing genocides and racial profiling here in America. Anne Frank's diary, the only remnant of a family's existence reminds us of what really matters and at makes humanity shine in the face of our relentless inhumanity to others. Timothy Near, her stellar cast and high-quality technical crew have brought the beauty of Anne's life to a new generation who hopefully may be the seeds of change.


Curtain Calls: ‘Diary of Anne Frank’ superb at Walnut Creek’s Lesher

By Sally Hogarty

April 7, 2019


A terrible chapter in the history of mankind comes to life as seen through the eyes of a young girl who somehow manages to retain her enthusiasm for life in a world gone mad. That girl, of course, is Anne Frank, whose diary became the focus of the 1956 Pulitzer Prize-winning play “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Set in the top floor of a warehouse in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, the play chronicles the Frank family’s life in hiding from 1942 to 1944. Joined by the Van Daan family and Mr. Dussel, the eight people lived in very tight quarters where they were forced to be quiet during the days when the warehouse was occupied. In 1944, the Gestapo discovered their hiding place and took them into custody. Everyone except Anne’s father perished in concentration camps.

“The Diary of Anne Frank” has proved a powerful choice for theater companies since in premiered at Broadway’s Cort Theatre in 1955, and the Center Repertory’s Theatre Company’s production is no exception. Nina Ball has designed a striking, multilevel, heavily-detailed set made all the more arresting with Kurt Landisman’s incredible lighting and Teddy Hulsker’s sound and projection design. You know you’re in for a visual treat from the start as the Frank family is spotlighted under an umbrella in the pouring rain, rain that is projected across the entire stage, as they walk to their new home at the warehouse.

Director Timothy Near has not only found a dynamite cast to portray these well-known characters, but she has also added so many wonderful touches to make this commanding drama even more so. The subtlety of the acting combined with the realistic blocking makes the audience feel that they are truly peeking in on a group of people dealing with unimaginable stress and fear.

Near continues this even during intermission. The lights come up and ushers open the doors, but the actors are still walking around the set doing household chores until 15 minutes later the lights once again go down and the mesmerizing story continues. Near continues this even during intermission. The lights come up and ushers open the doors, but the actors are still walking around the set doing household chores until 15 minutes later the lights once again go down and the mesmerizing story continues.

The superb cast features Monique Hafen Adams (Anne), Victor Talmadge (Otto Frank), Marcia Pizzo (Edith Frank), Maya Michal Sherer (Margot Frank), Alison Quin (Miep Gies), Kevin Singer (Peter Van Daan), Domenique Lozano (Mrs. Van Daan), Michael Butler (Mr. Van Daan), Michael Patrick Gaffney (Mr. Dussel) and Paul Plain (Mr. Kraler). “The Diary of Anne Frank” runs through April 28 at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive. Call 925-943-SHOW or go to lesherartscenter.org for tickets or more details.


Must See

By Charlie Jarrett

April 10, 2019


Where do I start in describing Timothy Near’s exciting, heartwarming, poignant and stellar production of Wendy Kesselman’s adaptation of playwrights Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s famous play, The Diary of Anne Frank. This story follows the harrowing experiences of the Frank family spent in hiding, in an attic annex (formerly a spice laboratory) above her father’s spice and pectin factory. “Het Achterhuis” (The Annex), as it was first titled, was published in the Netherlands in 1947, translated and republished in English in 1952, as “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl”. Its popularity inspired the 1955 play co-authored by Goodrich and Hackett. I would believe that most of my readers are quite familiar with the story of the Frank family and their ordeal between 1942 and 1944 during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Many of you may have as well seen a version of the play or the 1959 movie version at some time over the years so I’m sure you must be familiar with the both uplifting and tragic story. The original red checkered diary kept by Anne Frank while her family remained in hiding in, is currently part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, but the transcription of her record of those two years has been published in more than 60 languages and has become one of the world’s most well-known books.

Everything about this production is exceptionally well done, from the remarkable set design by Nina Ball, costumes by Jesse Amoroso, and the splendid cast. Monique Hafen Adams demonstrates superbly a 13-year-old character’s unfettered instantaneous joy and sorrow, during her family’s ordeal her loving father, Otto, and mother, Edith, are played by Victor Talmage and Marcia Pizzo. In the original diary Anne Frank gave each of the family’s annex guests a fictitious name, so the names of the characters in the play and the movie have different names then you would find historically affiliated with the real-life event. The story characters include business caretakers Mr. Kraler (Paul Plain) and Miep Gies (Alison Quin), Miep Gies’ family dentist, Mr. Dussel (Michael Patrick Gaffney), his partner Mr. Van Daan and his wife (Michael Butler and Domenique Lozano), their son Peter (Kevin Singer), Anne’s sister Margot (Maya Michal Sherer), and last but not least, two of the Nazi soldiers described as first and second man (Joe Ayres and Justin Hernandez).

I can only describe this exquisite theater production as “must see”. It continues Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, Thursdays and Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm with 2:30 pm matinee performances on Sundays, now through its Sunday, April 22 closing date. Tickets range between $34 and $56 and tickets may be acquired by visiting the theater and LCA box office at 1601 Civic Dr., in downtown Walnut Creek, on the lower level of the theater complex. Alternately, you may acquire them by going to www.CenterREP.org or by calling (925) 943 SHOW (7469).


‘Anne Frank’ at Center Rep keeps focus on humanity amid horror

By Sam Hurwitt

April 4, 2019


It’s the happy moments that are so striking.

The eight people who have crammed into a hiding place for more than two years, fearful to make a sound during the day lest they be discovered and killed, have some poignant moments of joy and hope and tenderness amid all the terror and despair and getting on each other’s nerves.

As Holocaust dramas go, The Diary of Anne Frank is mercifully, almost perversely, easy to take.

The horrors are largely at a distance in the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning 1955 drama, which Center REPertory Company is now performing at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts. These two Jewish families in Amsterdam were able to plan ahead, setting up a secret hideaway in the building of the business they ran, with a couple of trusted friends to bring them supplies and news. Compared to so many other Jews slaughtered by the Nazis and their collaborators, these are some of the lucky ones.

Adapted for the stage by married couple Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (screenwriters of “The Thin Man” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”), the play is based on the diary of Anne Frank, written in hiding from the ages of 13 to 15 and posthumously published as “The Diary of a Young Girl.” Center Rep is using a version that was further revised in 1997 by Wendy Kesselman.

Nina Ball’s set is amazing, conjuring a fully-realized two-story space that’s both large and cramped, crammed with cots, the family’s meager remaining belongings and supplies. The space is always abuzz with activity in the production directed by Timothy Near, former artistic director of San Jose Repertory Theatre, who’s married to Center REP artistic director Michael Butler. Even during intermission, the characters go about their business quietly, as if mindful of unsuspecting employees below.

Monique Hafen Adams is sunny and irrepressibly boisterous as Anne, often to the annoyance of those cooped up with her. Even when everyone first arrives, terrified, she chooses to see it as an adventure. The rest of her family is much more mild-mannered. Her father (Victor Talmadge) is quiet and kind, her mother (Marcia Pizzo) reserved and uneasy, and her older sister (Maya Michal Sherer) unassuming and introverted.

Mr. Frank’s business partner and his family are more lively, both in celebration and in squabbling. Artistic director Butler and Domenique Lozano are charismatically upbeat as Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan when they’re not aggravated with each other and everybody else, while teenage son Peter (Kevin Singer) is sullen and irritable.

Michael Patrick Gaffney is good-hearted but frequently exasperated as virtual stranger Mr. Dussel, a neighborhood dentist also in need of hiding. Alison Quin is a periodic ray of kindly sunshine as friend and go-between Miep, while Paul Plain is quietly fretful as fellow benefactor Mr. Kraler.

The world outside intrudes primarily through Teddy Hulsker’s sound design, both in noises that make everyone freeze in fear of discovery and in news reports, speeches and songs. Hulsker’s projections are also used to terrific effect, covering the walls with barbed wire or handwriting.

Anne’s irrepressible optimism in a horrific time is a major theme of the story, but one thing that makes that possible is how secluded the world of the play is. We hear about the atrocities outside from time to time, but seldom and in very little detail.

Her belief in human nature is almost baffling when the very worst of human nature is on display outside those walls, but that’s all going on out there somewhere — too near, to be sure, but in this cramped little world, the people we do see are good at heart. A look at the people outside sending their neighbors off to their deaths would be far more challenging, and perhaps more timely as a cautionary tale.


AisleSay.com

The Diary of Anne Frank at Center REPertory Company Beautifully Tells the Enduring Tale of Hope and Humanity in the Face of Horrific Inhumanity

By Judy Richter

April 4, 2019


“The Diary of Anne Frank” by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett is the true and ultimately tragic story of how eight Jews hid from the Nazis during World War II only to be betrayed and captured.

Center REPertory Company is presenting the adaptation by Wendy Kesselman. Born in Germany, Anne Frank moved to Amsterdam, Holland, with her family to escape the Nazis when she was 4, but the Germans took over Holland in 1940.

When Anne’s older sister, Margot, was ordered to a Nazi work camp in July 1942, the family hid in the upstairs annex of the factory where Anne’s father worked.

They and four other people remained there until August 1944 when they were betrayed, arrested by the Gestapo and later sent to prison camps, where everyone except Anne’s father died.

In this production, Anne (Monique Hafen Adams) is 13 when she, Margot (Maya Michal Sherer) and their parents, Otto (Victor Talmadge) and Edith (Marcia Pizzo), flee to the annex.

They are joined by Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan (Michael Butler and Domenique Lozano) and their 18-year-old son, Peter (Kevin Singer). Later joining them is a dentist, Mr. Dussel (Michael Patrick Gaffney).

In her optimistic way, Anne is exuberant at first and quite the pest, but they all soon get a dose of reality when Mr. Kraler (Paul Plain), a trusted friend who worked in the factory, gave them the rules.

They had to remain absolutely silent between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. when workers were downstairs. That meant removing their shoes, not talking and not using the only bathroom.

Besides Mr. Kraler, their only other connection to the outside world was Miep Gies (Alison Quin), who brought them what little she could.

Thus eight people lived in cramped quarters (set by Nina Ball, lighting by Kurt Landisman) with meager food and almost constant fear of being discovered. During their Hanukkah celebration, for example, Anne gave everyone a gift, but their fear was aroused when they heard a noise downstairs. Much to their relief, it came from a thief who fled.

Although they tried to make the best of their situation, frustration and tempers inevitably erupted.

Through it all, Anne wrote in her diary, revealing a hopeful, maturing girl with dreams and ambitions as her friendship with Peter blossomed.

Everyone’s hopes soared with the Allied invasion of Europe in June 1944. They envisioned being free soon. Thus it was a terrible irony that they were rousted two months later and died before the camps were liberated in April 1945. Besides the set and lighting, the production is complemented by Jessie Amoroso’s costumes and Teddy Hulsker’s sound and projections.

Timothy Near directs this excellent ensemble cast with sensitivity and an eye toward helping the audience understand how these eight people lived.

During intermission, for example, they remain on stage, going about their ways of passing the time.

Nevertheless, it's difficult to imagine how one might endure such hardships, and it’s impossible to fathom the depraved inhumanity of the Nazis and their attempt to annihilate all Jews and other people they deemed undesirable.

Hence when the cast takes its curtain call, the applause is warm but subdued.

Afterward, the house manager remarked that it was unusual to see people so quiet as they left.

That’s a tribute to the power of the play and this thought-provoking production.


Audience Testimonials – The Diary of Anne Frank


“Our group was at The Diary of Anne Frank last night…wow, wow and wow! There is no way that you can come out of that performance without being affected deeply. I will be talking up this performance big time. People need to see this!!” -Diane Gilcrest

“I L.O.V.E.D the show. At first, I was a bit skeptical because I don’t tend to like depressing plays or movies. I also thought since I know the story I would not enjoy it as much because I know the outcome, so no surprises. Boy, was I wrong! I was enthralled, and mesmerized by the storyline. It was so wrought with tension the audience took every opportunity to laugh at the tiniest bit of comic relief. It felt as though we were thirsting for the simplest of actions or words to stop holding our breath and get some relief. We were mirroring the feelings of the Frank’s, van Daan’s and Mr. Düssel. We were as one. As always the acting, the set, the lighting and direction are superb!” -Kerry Borgen

The Diary of Anne Frank was another amazing production! We almost gasped when we walked in and saw the set, even though your sets are always fabulous. Everyone in the cast was perfect in his/her roles and it was amazing from start to finish!” -Sharon Larson

“We saw The Diary of Anne Frank last Thursday evening with our friends at the Lesher and I wanted to write to tell you how much we were moved by this production. Although her story was well known to us, we feel that it should be retold often, especially in our current times. Although this is “history”, the possibility of this happening again is always just a blink away for people of the “wrong” race, religion, ethnicity, gender, etc. and this story is important to be told and retold. The set was very well done and effective. Probably one of the most moving parts of the production came to us from the audience at intermission, who unknowingly participated in the production freely moving about eating ice cream while the principals remain trapped in their limited space. We thought this was brilliant.” -Larry Maas

“My friend...lives in SF and remarked that she didn’t realize there is such high-class theatre in Walnut Creek. She enjoyed this more than many of the plays she has seen the in city. She marveled at the professionalism … all first rate. I told her I have yet to see a Center REP production that I didn’t love. You have a new fan in Alina. Thank you for bringing such high quality theater to the East Bay. I am forever grateful!” -Kerry Borgen

“It was one of the best shows that I have ever seen! The set was spectacular and each actor and actress played their part so professionally. The show was such a fabulous experience!” -Sherri Jaksoniak