The Diary of Anne Frank
The Diary of Anne Frank tells a story that many of us know—the book was and still may be required reading for high-school English classes. The image of Anne—hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, cooped up in a hidden flat with her family and others, keeping her mind busy by filling up page after page in her diary—has been etched into the memory of post-World War II generations.
Any stage adaptation—including this one, by the Chautauqua Playhouse in Carmichael—runs up against two challenges. One is the story’s claustrophobia: You’ve got seven, and eventually eight, people locked up in a small space. No one can leave—they’re all Jews, and would soon be picked up by the Nazis. They must be quiet, so they won’t draw attention to themselves. They listen to their short-wave radio and wait for one or two sympathetic friends to make secret drops of food. They’re trapped inside a small, sunless envelope of momentary safety, and this situation stretches on for well over a year.
The other challenge involves the title character. Like Shakespeare’s Juliet, Anne Frank is a young teenager, and like Juliet, it’s a tough role to cast. Not many actresses who can pass for that age have the stamina and skill to bring the part to life.
This small community production does fairly well with both challenges. Director Gil Sebastian develops the sensation that the walls are gradually closing in on these good people. The connections between scenes sometimes develop into awkward pauses, but the scenes themselves effectively convey the increasing desperation as the long concealment and close quarters gradually take a toll on all involved.
Actress Shannon Moutinho—a high-school student from Woodland—gives a good performance in the title part. She has long limbs and frisky energy—this is an Anne Frank who makes her own decisions and has real desires, a character who’s young and inexperienced but has complexity. Moutinho only occasionally displays a self-conscious awareness that she’s onstage—and this big part puts her front and center in scene after scene.
Also good are veteran actor Rodger Hoopman as Mr. Frank, Maria Ryken as Mrs. Frank and Warren Harrison as Mr. Dussell, as well as the trio playing the Van Daan family (Lenore Sebastian, John Walk, Christ Quandt).