The Diary of a Young Girl has become one of the most important texts of the Holocaust. The author of that diary, Annelies Marie Frank, better known to the world as Anne Frank, became one of the most tragic and certainly one of the most debated Jewish victims of that horrific period in world history. Diary is the true story of Anne and her family. Forced to flee Nazi Germany in 1934, the Frank family settled in Amsterdam where Otto Frank established a successful business, but by 1942, the Nazis invaded The Netherlands and the Franks were forced into hiding to escape being dragged off to the Nazi death camps. Those familiar with the story know that the Franks were discovered in an attic and arrested in 1944. That hiding place, the secret annex above Otto Frank’s business, would become their home and their self-imposed prison for two years, and is also the setting for Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s 1955 drama, The Diary of Anne Frank. If you’re somehow unfamiliar with this story or have never experienced the story played out on stage, Chapel Street Players is presenting their production of the play in Newark, Delaware now.
Set against a backdrop of the looming danger of Nazi occupied Amsterdam, this Jeff Robleto directed production ably captures the despair, claustrophobia, frustration, and abject fear of discovery for Anne and the other seven occupants of the confined, overcrowded attic apartment while highlighting the minutia of everyday life—homework, family arguments, a school girl’s obsession with movie stars as well as her crush on a boy.
Maria Cardillo delivers a delightful performance portraying Anne, the ever hopeful and exceptionally bright diarist, not as the canonized figure that the real-life Otto Frank wanted the world to see, but rather as a typical adolescent, bursting with all of the youthful anguish conveyed through the pages of Anne’s diary and prone to irritating enthusiasm (for some of her fellow confinees), irrational mood swings, pettiness, and the sexual urges and temptations that are inevitable when hormonal teenagers are involved.
Victor Cardillo, Maria’s real-life father, delivers a credible performance as the compassionate Otto Frank, especially in the scenes he shares with his daughter. Lisa Osicky portrays Edith with convincing, heart wrenching frustration because of the situation in which they’ve found themselves and the increasing hostility directed at her from Anne. Gabrielle Rambo brings quiet dignity to the role of Margot and Lisa Velardi breathes life into the character of Mrs. van Daan, generating laughter in key moments to diffuse the tension. A principle source of that tension is Christopher M. Woerner who, as Mr. van Daan, complains endlessly and argues with everyone, particularly Anne and Peter, the van Daan’s shy and socially awkward son played wonderfully by Preston Kifer. Pete Matthews rounds out the cast of principal actors as Mr. Dussel, an irritant and foil for Anne and Peter.
Chapel Street Players’ set designer, Ray Barto, worked his magic to transform the small stage into the cramped attic with its various rooms.
During their self-confinement in the attic at Prinsengracht 263, the Franks never lost hope that the nightmare would eventually end and that they could return to their lives. Anne’s diary was a testament to that hope and to her indomitable human spirit, the spirit that exists in all of us. Diary beautifully represents that hope. Our world has changed little since the 1940s. There are no longer Nazis occupying the streets, but racism, bigotry, and hatred are all still very much alive today as then, making this play and the words of a young Jewish girl as relevant as ever. Our world is still volatile, but like Anne, we can hope for a better tomorrow for “where there’s hope, there’s life.”
The Diary of Anne Frank runs through February 11th (visit http://chapelstreetplayers.org/ for specific show dates/times and other offerings by CSP).