Reviewed by Mary Paige Rieffel
There are very few people who are not aware of Anne Frank and the amazingly pure and optimistic words she left behind in a diary written while she and seven other Jews were in hiding from the terror of World War II, and one the most horrific crimes against all humanity, The Holocaust.
There are a few dramatic interpretations of the work. The one presented by Fenton Village Players Thursday evening was by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. I am unsure whether this script was abridged in some way than other versions I am familiar with or if the director (Grace Lee) made judicious cuts, but either way, this is a piece that can feel lengthy as an audience member, yet in this production the pacing felt just right.
The cast had a mix of green and seasoned actors that all demonstrated a good sense of cooperative story telling and chemistry. Bart Berger as the even-tempered patriarch, Otto Frank, kept the entire cast grounded and led by example. The younger actors showed much heart and were very sharp with their lines, of which there are many. Bria Mayer as Anne displayed an appropriate amount of youthful energy and deep reflection. Jacob Riley as Peter was also a stand out, and the scene work between these two in the latter part of the show was very strong. This entire story hinges on the importance of keeping hidden, so I found the moments of stillness and silence to be very powerful, thanks to the commitment and dedication of the ensemble as a whole. Also, they somehow found a REAL cat that could handle being on stage; I would have loved to see them give a credit in the program!
The space at FVP is small for a proscenium, but the set was done very economically with no curtain or walls which lent credence to the bare isolation in the type of “prison” these eight people had to endure for at least two years of their lives. That being said, transitions were a major road bump for the action of the play throughout. This may be aided by fixing the sound levels and mixing during transitions as a gentle form of distraction from the shuffling of set pieces as well as having all crew involved either wear all black or be costumed. I acknowledge that it is often difficult to choreograph exposed set changes, but, in my opinion, it is important to see them as part of the story.
The Diary of Anne Frank is a literary marvel. That a young woman facing such incredible and terrifying circumstances still maintained any amount of optimism is why her words will forever live in print, on the stage, and in our hearts. I commend FVP for a job well done and for choosing a season full of challenging work that digs just a little deeper.
The Diary of Anne Frank continues at the Fenton Village Playhouse, 14197 Torrey Rd., Fenton, MI, February 22nd through March 3rd with 7 pm evening shows and 2 pm matinees on Sundays. For more information contact the box office at 810-750-7700 or online at fentontheatre.org/tickets