‘The Diary Of Anne Frank’ Continues Tonight At SUNY Fredonia

FREDONIA – The horrors of World War II and the Holocaust are made alive for a short while, this week, on the stage of the Robert W. Marvel Theatre, on the campus of the State University of New York at Fredonia.

”The Diary of Anne Frank,” by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman, takes the suffering and the fear of that war, and makes them human for us, as seen through the eyes of a little girl.

The story is based on a true situation in which two Jewish families and an additional man – virtually strangers to one another before the action begins – come together in a tiny collection of rooms in a corner of a warehouse in Amsterdam in an attempt to hide from the Nazis and their murderous intentions until the advancing armies can free their country.

Director Jessica Hillman sensitively grasped the difficulty for eight individuals to live in a space in which they couldn’t turn around without stepping on the toes of someone else, and they had no privacy, almost no heat and only minimal food, and that was largely spoiled. The Marvel stage is fairly large for this particular play, so the director and scenic designer, Samantha Sayers, have filled it with furniture, creating paths which the actors must walk, and putting them into each other’s way, from beginning to end.

She even kept her cast on stage during the intermission, going about their business as best they could, to keep the audience in that claustrophobic mindset.

The problem of most college theater is that all the actors are very close to the same age while plays often deal with people of all ages, and it was problematic that some of the actors seemed so much older or younger than their characters, but all worked very hard at projecting what should be their age, and it quickly stopped mattering.

The cast dealt successfully with varying challenges, and produced such a sense of ensemble that I feel I should name them in the order their names appear in the program. They are Haley Beauregard, Nicholas Gerwitz, Sophia Howes, Taylor Sheehan, Clayton Howe, Marisa Caruso, Jordan Louis Fischer, Nicholas Stevens, Eliza Vann, Eric Jaynes, BJ Hylton, Zebadiah Mientkiewicz, and Eamon Rayhn.

The costumes by Amanda Moore and the sound and lighting by Dave Orr and Jacob P. Brinkman were most professional and effective.

Audience members who are familiar with the traditional version of the play, and the Hollywood film of the same material, will be startled at how this ”new adaptation” has changed things. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, was the last person among the eight refugees to survive. He owned the copyright to his daughter’s diary, on which the play is based, and he controlled productions so that elements such as Anne’s quarrels with her mother, for example, were not evident. Since his death, at age 91, in 1980, those controls have been released, producing a play more realistic of humans living under stress.

This is a play which dwells on negative realities, including fear, envy, greed, and more. The company was challenged to convey it all, without making us so overwhelmed that we failed to feel what it was revealing to us. That challenge was met, powerfully and with unblinking reality, and the drama was truly moving, as a result.

”The Diary of Anne Frank” will be performed one more time this evening at 7:30 p.m.