Stage review: Pittsburgh Public Theater adds a moving chapter to Anne Frank's legacy
October 2, 2015 11:53 AM
Pittsburgh Public Theater production of "The Diary of Anne Frank" directed by Pamela Berlin runs through Oct. 25 at the O'Reilly Theater. Here, Otto Frank, played by Randy Kovitz, left, dances with his daughter Anne, played by Remy Zaken, during a Sept. 20 photo session.
Hanukkah lights are lit during a Sept. 20 photo session ahead of the Pittsburgh Public Theater production of "The Diary of Anne Frank."
Anne Frank, left, played by Remy Zaken, talks with Peter Van Daan, played by David Jackson, in her bedroom during a photo session ahead of the Pittsburgh Public Theater production of "The Diary of Anne Frank."
The cast poses in the set.
Pittsburgh Public Theater production of "The Diary of Anne Frank" directed by Pamela Berlin opens September 24 and runs through October 15, 2015 at the O'Reilly Theater. Anne Frank, left, played by Remy Zaken talks with Peter Van Daan, played by David Jackson, in her bedroom, during a photo session, September 20.
Edith Frank, played by Chris Laitta, left, argues with her daughter Anne, played by Remy Zaken, during a photo session.
Mr. Van Daan, played by David Wohl, argues with his wife, played by Helena Ruoti, about paying off the police as their son, Peter, played by David Jackson, right, listens.
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Nazi Germany is a phase humanity is going through, young Anna tells her frightened beau, Peter. It may take a few hundred years, but we will get over it. People are essentially good, she tells him.
Anna, a free-spirited 15-year-old in 1944, had a way with words. She would soon be dead.
Had she lived, perhaps Anna — better known as Anne Frank — would have become the remarkable person she imagined her grown-up self to be — an artist who studied in Paris or a journalist. Instead, she was the extraordinary young girl we know her to be through the 30 million copies sold of the diary she kept during her two years in hiding during the Holocaust.
The 1947 book became “The Diary of Anne Frank,” the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play of 1956, which has been realized in a moving and soul-searching production at Pittsburgh Public Theater.
As the title character, Remy Zaken (“Spring Awakening” on Broadway) is perfect in her imperfections. The petite actress who looks the part also embodies a budding teen through and through — her adoration of her father at her mother’s expense, busting a ballet move during one of her nonstop rants, cruel and annoying one minute, caring and entertaining the next.
‘The Diary of Anne Frank’
Where: Pittsburgh Public Theater at the O'Reilly Theater, Downtown.
When: Through Oct. 25. 7 p.m. Tuesday; 8 p.m. Wednesday (except Oct. 7), Thursday (also 2 p.m. Oct. 22) and Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday (no matinee Sept. 26 and Oct. 3); and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday (finale is 2 p.m. Oct. 25).
Tickets: $30-$65 ($15.75 for students and age 26 and younger); 412-316-1600 or ppt.org.
We know Ms. Zaken’s Anna. She is a sister, a daughter, a friend in our sphere. She makes knowing what’s to come is all the more devestating.
The Anne Frank most of us know, or think we know, has become a symbol of millions of Jews killed during World War II after her father, Otto Frank, the lone death-camp survivor of his family, released his daughter’s diary in book form.
Voiceovers of Anne — Anna in the play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett — reading diary passages fade into scenes organically under the direction of Pamela Berlin. The whole is happening in the head of Randy Kovitz’s Mr. Frank. The play, book-ended with his return to the hiding place in Amsterdam, is a flashback as he reads the diary for the first time.
Bring tissues. Mr. Frank is heartbreaking as the father of them all, putting on a happy front, vigilant and caring when those around him are falling apart. You can see why Anna adores him and the others look up to him. As Anna’s mother, Christine Laitta, usually seen as a musical theater actress, takes to drama as a stalwart woman who puts herself last and is emotionally wrecked when Anna rejects her.
We recognize the mother-daughter struggle of the teen years, but under the circumstances, even Anna can see the cruelty in her actions.
Anna was 13 when she went into hiding with her parents and sister Margot and the Van Daan family, young Peter and his parents. During their two years in hiding in the cramped, creaky upper-floor annex of Mr. Frank’s business, they were joined by the neighborhood dentist, Mr. Dussel.
The strong cast includes Pittsburgh pros Helena Ruoti and David Wohl as the Van Daans, a couple of some wealth who struggle mightily with their new circumstances, despite their gratitude. Their son, Peter, New York actor David Edward Jackson in his Pittsburgh debut, struggles to express himself but finds solace in Anna’s words and warming feelings toward him. He also has one of the night’s more remarkable accomplishments in making a cat seem cooperative.
Erika Cuenca’s quiet Margot gets lost in the shadow of Anna’s larger-than-life persona, while Daniel Krell’s Dussel, a loner by nature and forced to share a room with Anna, is fittingly uncomfortable in such tight quarters.
The multilevel, wooden set by Michael Schweikardt, with subtle lighting by John Lasiter, is a reminder that every movement, every flicker, came with a possibility of discovery during the two years they remained in hiding. They survived with the help of Dutch loyalists and loyal friends Miep (Kelsey Carthew, a recent Carnegie Mellon graduate making her professional debut) and Mr. Kraler (Ken Bolden). They bring ever-dwindling rations, books and news of the war, entering from steps that lead upward to the stage.
For the eight in hiding, to exit means sure death.
Ms. Berlin, a frequent directorial presence at the Public, and her cast tell a real-life horror story with all the humanity they can muster. We see eight lives run the gamut from joy to tragedy. It is especially wrenching when we are reminded that their two years take them to the brink of war’s end before they are discovered. They know of D-Day and the Allies march toward Amsterdam. Hope turns into a tortuous waiting game, then the realization that they are to be among the war’s final victims.
For the run of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Classrooms Without Borders, in association with the Pittsburgh Holocaust Center and the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, have purchased hundreds of tickets, and a third student matinee has been added.
We live in a world where incidents of anti-Semitism are reported throughout Europe, thousands of Syrians are forced to flee their war-torn country and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai demonstrates daily the power and grace of one teenage girl’s voice. “The Diary of Anne Frank” has resurfaced here at an urgent time in the 70 years since the end of World War II, and Public Theater has delivered an uncompromising production of a necessary story, radiant, raw and befitting the memory of a remarkable girl and her legacy.
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960.
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