“The Diary of Anne Frank” Review - Does Justice to Young Girl’s Living Legacy

As one of the most-read, most-translated and most-impactful books in history, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” continues to draw in millions worldwide, whether by diary, film or stage.

The newest theatrical production of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” by The Writers Theatre in Glencoe, is a not-to-be-missed transformative experience that lives up to the theatre’s artistic mission of creating deliberately intimate performances. The audience is literally face-to-face with powerful storytellers during the show -- thirteen fine actors offering deep and nuanced performances that do true justice to the living legacy of Anne Frank.

Sophie Thatcher portrays Anne Frank with sensitivity, boldness and boundless youthful optimism in the Writers Theatre production of "Diary of Anne Frank."

 “The Diary of Anne Frank,” by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, is adapted by Wendy Kesselman and directed by Kimberly Senior.  The cast of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” includes Sophie Thatcher (Anne Frank), along with Lance Baker (Mr. van Daan), Sean Fortunato (Otto Frank), Coburn Goss (Mr. Kraler), Kevin Gudahl (Mr. Dussel), Sam Hubbard (Nazi), Leah Karpel (Miep Gies), Heidi Kettenring (Mrs. van Daan), Lila Morse (Margot Frank), Eric Slater (Nazi), James Sparling (Nazi), Kristina Valada-Viars (Edith Frank) and Antonio Zhiurinskas (Peter van Daan).  

Sean Fortunato, as the steadfast head of a family facing insurmountable odds, bonds with daughter Sophie Thatcher (Anne Frank).

With a seating capacity intentionally designed for only 60 people per show, “The Diary of Anne Frank” runs through August 2nd at Books on Vernon, 664 Vernon Ave. in Glencoe.

Immersion into Anne’s shut-away life begins with audience members entering the theatre through a narrow corridor aimed at introducing an uneasy sense of claustrophobia of being sealed away from the rest of the physical world for the 100-minute show with no intermission. In a sense, there’s no way out and no turning back from the historical facts, and everyone enters the theatre with the heaviness of how it will all end up.  And as the actors rivet and pivot on the cramped stage with a range of emotions - from joy to jealousy, hopelessness to longing, stoicism to optimism -  the audience is compelled to hand over their hearts, even knowing they will be broken and hurled back.                   

With a purposefully sparse stage bringing to life the bare bones living conditions of the annex, each furnishing and wardrobe item , and every muffled sound and illuminated lamp becomes magnified and transfixing.  (Jack Magaw, Scenic Designer; Nan Zabriskie, Costume Designer, Josh Schmidt, Sound Designer; Nick Heffestad, Production Designer, David Wooley, Fight Choreographer, David Castellanos, Stage Manager). 

"Bringing The Diary of Anne Frank to the Writers Theatre audience is particularly thrilling because of the opportunity that such an intimate staging provides,” says Director Kimberly Senior.  “In such close proximity, we begin to see the real struggle that belies each character. They are at once heroic and frightened, vivacious and subdued. I'm eager to make the danger palpable and examine this extraordinary piece of history through our current lens." 

Kristina Valada-Viars (Edith Frank), draws in the audience as a mother battling anguish, struggling to create a facade of normalcy. Sophie Thatcher (Anne Frank), and Lila Morse (Margot Frank) dream of dancing as the Allies close in and liberation seems within reach.

Sophie Thatcher as Anne Frank is riveting and emotional, with the 14-year-old Thatcher cementing her reputation as one of the most promising young actors around town.  While much attention is historically given to Anne Frank’s womanly awakening in such dire conditions, Antonio Zhiurinskas’ performance as the unassuming Peter van Daan brings more attention to a male coming-of-age experience in a world that’s forsaken them.

As part of the Writers Theatre enrichment programming in the broader community, events offered in conjunction with "The Dairy of Anne Frank" include:

-        Post-show discussions on select Wednesday evenings following the performance where audience members can ask questions of the cast and gain new insights into the work.

-        From Page to Stage offered free at select North Shore libraries in Deerfield, Winnetka-Northfield, Glencoe, Northbrook, Wilmette and Highland Park provide additional background to enrich and enhance audience appreciation for "The Diary of Anne Frank".  Depending on the library, you can join discussions of the themes, challenges and opportunities presented by this powerful story, learn about the memoir as an art form, hear a presentation from an Otto Frank historian, and view a film screening of other child perspectives during the Holocaust.

-        The United States Holocaust Museum and the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center are also offering a series of events in conjunction with the Writers Theatre on March 15, March 22, May 12 and May 15. Visit the theatre’s events page for details. 

Antonio Zhiurinskas (Peter van Daan) and Sophie Thatcher (Anne Frank) find alone time, away from the woes of a world at war.

While the Writers Theatre performance space at Books on Vernon will continue to house additional productions this year, a new theatre center is in the works for a 2016 grand opening in downtown Glencoe.  The 36,000 square-foot space will seat 250 patrons in the Alexandra C. & John Nichols Theatre, with seating sections no longer than eight rows deep. The Gillian Theatre will be a flexible 50 to 99 seat space, paying tribute to their original, long-standing bookstore space. The new theatre is designed by the award-winning, internationally renowned Studio Gange Architects, lead by founder and design principal Jeanne Gange, FAIA.

"The Diary of Anne Frank," presented by the Writers Theatre is running through June 28, 2015 at Books on Vernon, 664 Vernon in downtown Glencoe.

Schedule is as follows: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30pm (with select 2pm matinees); Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm; and Sundays at 2pm and 6pm.  Performance prices range from $35-$70 and can be ordered online or at the Box Office, 321 Park Avenue, 847-242-6000.

With nearly 100 shows this spring already sold out, the best bet is to look into June and July performance dates pronto, and head over to the Writers Theatre for an unforgettable evening.

Younger children can experience the Anne Frank story at the renowned Children's Museum of Indianapolis, the world's largest children’s museum. In their inspiration exhibit, "The Power of Children," artifacts and live theatre performances are woven into the exhibit space to showcase Anne’s life and lessons. The Museum is also one of only 11 U.S. sites participating in the Anne Frank Center USA Sapling Project, where saplings from the original cherished chestnut tree outside of Anne Frank’s window have been replanted to inspire new generations.

Photo credit:  Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Other Photo credits: Michael Brosilow

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