“The Diary of Anne Frank” is Always Relevant at Fort Salem Theatre

“The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank is 74 years old this year. It has sold over 30 million copies, been translated into 70 languages, been adapted into two plays, a film and a musical, and is required reading in countless schools. The Capital Region has two productions this Fall. What does it still have to teach us after repeated visits?

Fort Salem Theatre is offering their first drama under the new management of Jared & Kyle West and they have done a great service to their community presenting this sensitively directed, excellently cast, heartbreaker of a production.

Rhylie Lynch (Margot Frank), Jared West (Otto Frank), Courtnie Harrington (Edith Frank), Dorothy Slim Van Pelt (Anne Frank)
Photo by Kyle West

FST uses the updated adaptation by Wendy Kesselman based on the classic Francis Goodrich and Albert Hackett play which may be unfamiliar to those whose experience with Anne predates the Broadway production of this text in 1997. The diary is an account by Anne, a 13-year-old girl, of her time as a Jew hiding in an attic of an office building in Amsterdam from the Nazis from July 1942 until August 4, 1944.

Director David Braucher has done a great job casting his production. They are not all equally experienced onstage but they are all perfectly appointed to their roles and each has the power to move you with their plainest of utterances.

Jared West plays Otto Frank, the host with the affable good nature, the man who you would want in charge under these harrowing circumstances. My favorite moment of his is when he praises Anne’s sense of adventure and identifies with her love of literature, you are intimately aware of the bond between father and daughter. As Mr. Dussell, Warren Shultz provides plenty of grit rooming with Anne to refine our pearl and has a hoot of an office visit trying to extract a tooth from Mrs. Van Daan. The Van Daans are played by Jocelyn Khoury and Matt DeMarco who make the most of this ravenous, inappropriate couple. They don’t lose a single laugh and bring real heat to their exchanges.

Photo by Kyle West

One of the greatest reasons to continue to produce “The Diary of Anne Frank” is that it is always new to someone and Fort Salem Theatre needs to be congratulated for bringing so many high schoolers into the theater to experience this show. Among them were the cast members Dorothy Slim Van Pelt (Greenwich) making her theatrical debut as Anne, Quinn Donaldson (Salem) as Peter, Rhylie Lynch (Schuylerville) as Margot, and Luke Miner (Salem) as Collaborator. Kudos to the director and all these young people for their easy stage presence, moment-to-moment believability and sustained sense of character throughout the evening. Well done! Quinn IS shy but makes his presence seen and felt garnishing the first laugh of the evening in the second scene and sending Anne over the moon with his tender kiss in the second act. Rhylie’s Margot selflessly denies all jealousy, convincing Anne to enjoy her romance.

You could not want more from someone playing Anne than Dorothy Slim Van Pelt. She is loud, awkward, annoying and terrifically appealing. She is bubbling over with high spirits handing out Hanukkah gifts, woundingly cross with her mother and in love with life throughout. The theater and this production are blessed by her presence.

There are many, many things Fort Salem gets so right with the physical production starting with the skeletal, sprawling, vaulting expanse of the skeletal set (designed by Charles J. I. Krawczyk and Darrell Holovach) which leaves beams exposed and has a bunch of different levels, doors, and crannies to play and hide with. Neat bookcase/door! The table might be a little too big, robbing the players of the most powerful playing area, center stage, although it is used effectively for Anne’s Act I closing monologue. Peter J Carrolan does double duty playing Mr. Kraler and handling the lighting design which was challenged to cover so many spaces. The costumes by Sherry Recinella are terrific. Everyone looks attractive, period-appropriate, and character correct. They don’t especially look like they’ve been forced to wear the same clothes for two years but they look good, especially Anne’s school girl outfits and Mrs. Van Daan’s mink. What could use some work were the sound (designed by Darrell Holovach & John Norine) and lighting transitions between scenes. Anna Threet deserves credit for stage managing this large undertaking and making an entrance as an officer as well!

Photo by Kyle West

Anne says “When I write I shake off all my cares. But I want to achieve more than that. I want to be useful and bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!” What rang my bell on this visit to the secret annex was Edith Frank, Anne’s mother played by Courtnie Harrington, demanding that Mr. Van Daan be thrown out immediately for stealing from the communal bread in the night. Courtnie had quiet scenes throughout the evening and always seemed to be suffering from the demands of accommodation whether regretting Anne’s boisterousness or disapproving of the Van Daan’s garishness but finally in the 11th hour she showed her mettle and was resolute that enough was enough! Her only concession is that it can happen tomorrow and not instantly. The Van Daan’s are not evicted because Miep played superbly by Kyra Fitzgerald makes one of her heaven-sent entrances through the house (nice touch, the audience always feeling the entrances as feet trooped through the theater) announcing the Allies invasion on D-Day. But was Edith right? Are there limits to inclusion and in order to save ourselves, do we need to be more strict? Anne died of starvation, after all.

Otto Frank describes what he has been told about Anne’s death at Bergen-Belsen, she would have been 92 this year, picks up her diary where it was smacked out of her hands, and holds it open towards the audience and says “All that remains.”

Through 10/10 @ Fort Salem Theatre

Tickets: www.FortSalem.com

Photo by Kyle West

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