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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
The Diary of Anne Frank

When I write I shake off all my cares. But I want to achieve more than that. " Anne
 Anne Frank
Photo: Emmanuelle Nadeau(Photo: Jerry Dalia)
A new adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank by Wendy Kesselman opened on Broadway in 1997. It was presumably meant to augment and enhance the original script by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. It pleased many for bringing a more pronounced Jewish identity to the characters. But it also added some of the diary's reinstated ethnicity and some previously deleted passages that came to light in 1995 (including Anne's sexual fantasizing. This awkwardly staged final scene as well as an epilogue are also included in this production of the Kesselman adaptation at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.

Except that the additions partly diminish the original impact of the play, this well-meaning adaptation is faithful to its source.

This new version takes a less sentimental approach to the familiar story. Yet, the course of this authenticated drama of a young Jewish girl's ordeal during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam will always remain harrowing.

In keeping with the play's message, director Joseph Discher has considered each of the assorted crises and moods in a sensitive, if not especially empowering manner. Nevertheless, he does well by drawing us into the details of the daily life of the trusting souls who waited patiently for deliverance from evil for more than two years.

Whether we shiver along with the eight Jews in hiding when the threat of discovery is near or rejoice with them at the modest Chanukah service, each scene becomes, as it should, a commemorative to the faith and endurance of each. The pivotal role of Anne has been entrusted to Emmanuelle Nadeau, a gifted young actress who is currently a Junior at New Jersey's Westfield High School. She played Scout to acclaim in To Kill a Mockingbird at STNJ in 2011. Now she is embodying Anne with similar spunky and rebellious behavior and it's lovely to watch.

Set designer Brittany Vasta's hideout provides a impressive feeling for the actual cramped, intimate environment in which these people lived. The lighting designer Matthew Adelson has found the most effective ways to change and enhance the mood of a scene.

Bryan Scott Johnson gives a sensitive performance as Mr. Frank. Jacqueline Antaramian is an emotionally fragile Mrs. Frank. As the troublesome Van Daans, Carol Halstead is amusing and touching exercising the wife's excessive sensuality while Anthony Cochrane finds a realistic basis for the husband's bad behavior. Lauriel Friedman as older sisterMargot holds her own nicely without getting lost in the shuffle of temperaments and egos.

The tentativeness of Sean Hudock's performance was just right for the role of Peter Van Daan, the shy friend and prospective beau who discovers, along with Anne, that buttinsky parents need not be a barrier to a budding romance. Patrick Toon plays Mr. Dussel, the crotchety old dentist, exactly that way. Shana Wiersum and Michael Leigh Cook are more than merely supportive as the friends downstairs.

Although director Discher's sticks effectively to conventions, his staging of the final scene is a disaster, as three unconvincing actors dressed up as Nazis, their guns drawn, storm the “secret annex” and round up the residents. This unnecessary and awkward and phony-looking scene, although evidently prescribed in the new version, seriously cripples the chilling and heart-breaking finale of the original. Nevertheless, we must be more attentive than ever to the informed realism that propels this dramatic document, even as it bears witness to the eternal and essential goodness of the human race.

by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, adapted by Wendy Kesselman
Directed by Joseph Discher
Cast: Emmanuelle Nadeau (Anne Frank), Bryan Scott Johnson (Otto Frank), Jacqueline Antaramian (Edith Frank), Lauriel Friedman (Margot Frank), Shana Wiersum (Miep Gies), Sean Hudock (Peter Van Daan), Michael Leigh Cook (Mr. Kraler), Carol Halstead (Mrs. Van Daan), Anthony Cochrane (Mr. Van Daan), Patrick Toon (Mr. Dussel), Mathias Goldstein (First Man), Jackson Knight Pierce (Second Man), Nick Clark Tanner (Third Man)
Scenic Designer: Brittany Vasta
Lighting Designer: Matthew Adelson
Costume Designer: Candida Nichols
Sound Designer: Steven Beckel
Production Stage Manager: Denise Cardarielli
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes including intermission
Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at the F.M Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, 36 Madison Avenue on the campus of Drew University.
(973) 408 - 5600 or
Tickets: $32.00 - $62.00
Performances: Sun., Tues., Wed., Sat. at 7:30 pm; Fri. at 8 pm, Matinees Sat. and Sun. at 2 pm.
From 10/14/15 Opened 10/17/15 Ends 11/21/15
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 10/17/15
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