CTG’s “The Diary of Anne Frank” Makes Its Timeless Case at Congregation Beth Israel

“The Diary of Anne Frank” makes its timely and sensitive plea to remember the importance of basic human rights in its production at Congregation Beth Israel.

This is Classic Theater Guild’s second production of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and is sensitively directed by Steve Suriano who previously played Mr. Van Daan in their 2008 production. Timely in its message, and a beautiful reminder of the importance of basic human rights, the play tells of the Frank family who go into hiding from the Nazis in 1942 Amsterdam in the annex of a factory where Otto Frank (Jesse Braverman) has kept the books. The Frank family (Anne played by Krista Rivers, Margot is Caroline Jameson and Edith is Marie Oppedisano) are joined in their two years of hiding by the Van Daan family (Mr. Van Daan is Gordon W. Brown, Mrs. Van Daan is Rachel Pearlman & Peter is Kendon Brown) and a dentist, Mr. Dussel (Alan Angelo). They are hidden and protected by Miep Gies (the chic and stunning Zoe Eva Brown) and Mr. Kraler (Ken Goldfarb, so good in Noodle Pudding’s “The Value of Names”).

“The Diary of Anne Frank” is a living classic, making its case in front of our eyes on a night when proof of our inability to get along, work together to a common goal and accommodate each other had been confirmed earlier in the day in the country’s House of Representatives. The synagogue where the play is performed has extra security measures in place, especially this week due to the Tree of Life anniversary, yet another parallel to the play’s themes of violence in our community related to discrimination and hatred.

It was published as “The Diary of a Young Girl” in 1947 and premiered on stage in 1955. It has never been out of print and has sold untold millions of copies. The stage adaptation won the Pulitzer in 1956, was updated by Wendy Kesselman in 1997 and won the Best Play Tony in 1998.

Much of the play is taken up with the quotidian detail of sharing a confined space for two years. Who will share bedrooms, who divvies up the spice cake fairly and how do we communicate with each other fairly and decently respecting each other’s differences. Of course, this works wonderfully well as a metaphor onstage watching this society in microcosm struggle and thrive knowing that the Nazis at the door have no interest in accommodating or making space for people’s differences.

Steve Suriano has assembled a terrific cast who are more than capable of telling this heart-rending story. Area stage veteran Alan Angelo gets all his necessary laughs out of the cantankerous dentist and then some as the last guest to arrive in the attic. His hands trembling across the kitchen table describing the thousands who have been taken away is what will stay with me.

Gordon Brown is a strong presence onstage and has lovely moments, a touch on his son’s shoulder blade as they squeeze past each other round the dinner table or his savoring drag on a cigarette that Miep has just delivered “When Miep comes the sun begins to shine,” which will make his shortcomings all the more touching.

Rachel Leah Pearlman is a game gal who will surprisingly make you care deeply for a mink coat.  She can flash a leg and crack wise before we see her spirit crack. Marie Oppedisano starts off terse but warms with time and is very effectively moving after a rejection from Anne. Jesse Braverman with his courageous smile and optimistic spirit keeps the entire evening from getting too maudlin and you can see the familial temperament between father and daughter.  Anne can still believe that people are really good at heart. I have never seen Jesse, Alan or Rachel better.

Best of all are the children. The flirtation and kiss between Anne and Peter, the sibling rivalry between Anne and Margot and Anne’s high-spirited clashes with everyone are lovingly played by Krista Rivers, Caroline Jameson and Kendon Brown. Steve has done such a good job with these young actors that you will feel privileged to witness them in their formative stages. They are lovely, charming and Ms. Rivers is appropriately a delight as the lead, all that you could wish for.

The technical elements are very modest (a handful of lighting instruments) but very effectively implemented. The costumes are well chosen, the set works well and the minimal lighting is not wasted. I wish there were more variety in some of the player’s performances, the confrontation in Act II over stolen bread was not as stilted as it was on opening night or the ending as drawn out and ponderous. However, I am more than eager to forgive these minor quibbles and encourage you to see this perpetually incisive work of 20th century literature which unfortunately shows no sign of retreating to obsolescence anytime soon.

Thru 11/10

Tickets: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4343282

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