Otto Frank walks up the stairs to the annex, slow. The weight of each step increases the higher he goes as he disrupts a ghostlike veneer of dust. He finds himself sitting at a kitchen table meditatively, only to find a piece of what’s left over, a scarf. The opening scene to The Diary of Anne Frank at the Pittsburgh Public Theater allows the gravity of the show to find its center and power.
Otto Frank was the father of Anne Frank, a young girl who kept a diary of her times in hiding from the Nazi Occupation in Amsterdam during World War II. Three years after the concentration camps are liberated, Otto, the only surviving member of his family and the other occupants, The Van Daan’s and Mr. Dussel, returns to their hiding place above Otto’s factory. These patient minutes establish the set gracefully. The annex has a certain level of antiquity to it, the secretive warm glimpses of sunlight through wooden slats in the roof like it were preserving a sacred treasure within. Otto finds Anne’s diary, and the story is told through a series of flashbacks until leading back to the present.
Because the play is told intimately through Anne’s perspective, it allows the audience to lose their consciousness to the horrid reality of the world outside the annex and into her own poignant balance of naivety and maturity, fear and hope. Remy Zaken luminously controls this dichotomy through Anne’s formative years spent in hiding. She starts off jovial, oblivious almost but finds herself dealing with a search for identity and sense of sympathy without ever losing her radiant core.
In the same manner, all of her characterizations of those living with her have the same quality. It’s clear who she favors and piques her curiosity, mainly her father and Mrs. Van Daam. Randy Kovitz and Helena Ruoti, respectively, are truly magnificent. Kovitz gives Mr. Frank all the bearing of a father, a vestibule of strength but managing to let his own sensitivity and disquiet nature shine through. Ruoti provides much of the comic relief, but contrasts her character’s ability to be static and holds an emotional pull all of her own. The rest of the cast supports the production seamlessly only adding to the sometimes claustrophobic situations they encounter.
Pamela Berlin’s direction can hardly go unnoticed as well. She has a great command of portraiture in her use of the space. When a particular area of the set was a focal point for a scene, each character not involved had their own independence. The most beautiful of them being Mr. Van Daam’s contemplative moments spent alone in his upper room resembling a late 19th century Tonalism painting. Berlin also subtly displayed time progression through a shelf in their humble kitchen, adding to the realism of their lives. However, this realism was broken whenever the door into Anne’s room was sometimes pantomimed and sound cued, and other times completely forgotten.
The Diary of Anne Frank is so rich in the human spirit tremendously thanks to Anne Frank who lived through it all. The Pittsburgh Public’s production does it a great deal of justice, reminding us of the significance of her words.
Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Public Theater for complimentary press tickets.The Diary of Anne Frank runs at the O’Reilly Theater until October 25th. Tickets and more information can be found here.
Performance Date: Thursday, October 1, 2015