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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Diary of Anne Frank

When I learned there are over a dozen Safe Houses in the LA area hiding LatinX families from ICE, it got me wondering— How do these families survive with so little money and needing to remain in the shadows? How do they not lose hope? — Director Stan Zimmerman
Elvira Barjau and Emiliano Torres
The unwavering faith in the goodness of humanity that was Anne Frank's mantra should transcend time and place and serve as a beacon to, frankly, anybody. It's one key reason why Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl remains a staple of middle-school reading lists and probably why the Diary's adaptation for the stage by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett has a regular spot in production schedules the nation over.

Our country's charged view of immigration gave director Stan Zimmerman the impetus to reexamine Anne Frank through the lens of the Trump administration. Upon hearing a story of a Jewish woman sheltering undocumented Mexican immigrants from ICE, Zimmerman conceived his LatinX version of the play which he produced with the Pop-up Playhouse, taking a certain amount of backlash for the endeavor. Following a run last summer at the Complex Theater, the production is back at the same venue.

Purists who view Anne Frank strictly as a Holocaust tale have scratched their heads and gnashed their teeth over Zimmerman's overlay. Frankly, I wish the director had taken the concept even further, sharpened the focus of his observation, and cast stronger actors. What is on stage at the Complex feels underdeveloped, a couple of half-related stories sharing the same space rather than a unified examination of hate, oppression, and hope.

The production is still unmistakably the story of Anne Frank, with Zimmerman using the 1997 version adapted by Wendy Kesselman. The idea here is that a group of illegal immigrants hiding in a cramped space get hold of copies of the play and start acting it out. About halfway through, they discard the scripts and transform into the characters they are enacting.

That morphing takes place after an intermission which breaks up the flow of the piece. So now the eight refugees have been in hiding for one year and five months, and are fast approaching their breaking points both physically and psychologically. And somewhat quizzically, they have swapped out the black and gray hoodies and slacks they wore in the first act for colorful clothes. (The production has no credited technical artists for scenery, costumes or lighting)

Otto Frank (played by Emiliano Torres) is the group's bedrock— the supplier of hope, comfort and solutions when everyone else comes up short. His wife (Tasha Dixon) lacks her husband's strength and, under these circumstances at least, has a lot more tolerance for her quieter and more obedient daughter, Margot (Nikki Mejia). Their reluctant flat-mates are Mr. Van Daan (Robert C. Raicch), his wife (Raquenel) who clings to the remnants of her now vanished life of privilege and flirts with Mr. Frank while putting down her husband. The Van Daan's mopey adolescent son Peter (David Gurrola) largely stays out of everybody's way. The group eventually takes in a grumpy dentist Mr. Dussell (Raymond Abel Thomas) who is forced to share a room with Anne.

As frustrating as she can be to everyone, Anne Frank is also the group's life force: an ever-optimistic chatterbox who seeks only to get through this and brighten the lives of the people around her. Buzzing around those two mean little rooms, Genesis Ochoa taps into the Anne's effervescence. We quickly understand why her flat mates find her simultaneously so extraordinary and so exasperating. There's an earned poignancy as Ochoa recites the words into her diary that will become so famous. Any rendering of Anne Frank must be a beacon of faith. Fittingly, Ochoa is this production's dynamo.

Her cast mates are less engaging. The Franks and Van Daans get their moments, but they are brief, and we never especially get under the skin of these men and women. The early, over-the top vamping by Raquenel's Mrs. Van Daan makes it difficult for us to take her seriously later when the character is brought low over the fate of a cherished fur coat. Gurrola's Peter may proclaim his fascination for Anne, but any charge between him and Ochoa is absent. Torres is largely steady as Frank who also functions as the play's epilogist and has to deliver the awful news of every character's fate.

The impact of that epilogue should be stronger. The problem here isn't that Zimmerman has cast Latino actors to play Jews against a backdrop that is half Holocaust and half present day. Rather, what's missing is a sense of outrage or urgency, over both past atrocities and present day injustices. Where Anne Frank's diary leaves readers feeling hopeful, Anne Frank LatrinX leaves us feeling largely &emdash; and dangerously &emdash; indifferent.

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The Diary of Ann Frank
By Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman
Directed by Stan Zimmerman

Cast: Genesis Ochoa, Aris Alvarado, Keith Coogan, Tasha Dixon, David Gurrola, Nikki Mejia, Heather Olt, Raquenel, Robert C. Raicch, Raymond Abel Thomas, Emiliano Torres
Stage Manager: Miranda Richard
Plays through February 24, 2019 at the Dorie Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles,
Running time: One hour and 45 minutes with one 10 minute intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson

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