The Seem-To-Be Players kicked off their multi-state tour of "The Diary of Anne Frank" on Thursday night at the Lawrence Arts Center. The popular play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett based on Anne Frank's diary of her years in hiding has been adapted by Wendy Kesselman especially for small touring companies. Hoping to bring Frank's story to a middle and high school audience, the Seem-To-Be Players will take the play across the country in the coming months.
Directed by guest director Moses Goldberg, "Diary" features a strong local cast with 16-year-old Clara Kundin as the vivacious Anne Frank. Kundin is an enthusiastic performer who has tapped into Frank's intelligence and optimism, taking command of the stage. Chris Waugh's performance as Anne's father, Otto, is also powerful and carefully nuanced. Kundin and Waugh have good chemistry, reminding us of Anne's devotion to her father, the only member of the Frank family to survive the concentration camps and the one who allowed Anne's diary to be published.
Joan Singer and Andy Stowers are Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan, who with their son, Peter (Colton Rice), share the Franks' hiding place. Erik J. Pratt is the nervous dentist Mr. Dussel. Adri Pendergrass and Chris Johnson are the Franks' protectors, Miep Geis and Mr. Kraler. Kitty Mitchell and Alanna Reeves round out the cast as the fragile Mrs. Frank and the "quiet daughter," Margot. The entire cast is uniformly good, each of them having moments of real clarity of character.
The traveling set designed by Thomas Sciacca is an impressive mixture of levels designed to reveal the nature of the Franks' cramped living quarters. Goldberg and lighting designer Lee Saylor have made good use of the space to feature moments with one or two characters even as the entire cast remains on stage. Assisted by lighting changes, the performers not in a scene maintain character while moving set pieces, changing costume or otherwise preparing for the next scene.
In the midst of the play's down-to-earth reality, the final scene of the Franks' capture is jarringly unrealistic. Casting Pendergrass and Johnson as the German soldiers requires that they be heavily costumed in vaguely military coats. Wearing gas masks to distort their faces, they sneak quietly into the attic, rounding up the residents with some film-Nazi commands of "Raus!" and "Schnell!" The awkward staging does not have the apparently desired surrealistic quality.
Out of the great horror of the Holocaust, the small voice of a teenage girl speaks with straightforward honesty about little day-to-day concerns familiar to us all. That is the power of "The Diary of Anne Frank." Politics and religious controversy loom in the background, but her story is not the story of those battles; it is the story of family, friendship and teenage crushes. It is about fear, hunger and personal deprivation as well as loyalty, sacrifice and love.
"The Diary of Anne Frank" allows us to hear one voice among millions in a catastrophe of human suffering, but it is the voice that makes us understand that suffering.
¢ Sarah Young is a lecturer in Kansas University's English department. She can be reached at email@example.com.