The Summit Playhouse riveting production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” drew a large, responsive audience on opening night. The enduring appeal of this story is no less potent than when the actual events occurred, beginning in 1942. Most of us have read the diary, seen the film or a stage production. But despite repeated showings, the story still captures the poignancy of these families, surviving in a hidden attic in Amsterdam during World War II.
We all know the horrendous events that occurred and how Jews, in particular, were targeted by Nazi officials and the Gestapo. But the play is even more about human relations, especially Anne’s gradual evolution from a lively 13-year-old to a young girl falling in love over the two years of their hidden lives.
Ava Chrusciel is Anne, compellingly inhabiting the infectious, lively daughter with her indomitable spirit. She is ably supported by a sound cast. Christopher C. Gibbs as Otto Frank is the linchpin who holds the two families (and the dentist) together during these troubled times. He perfectly embodies inner strength and empathy throughout. Joelle Bchner as is wife Edith displays the concern, hidden anger and frustration of trying to deal with her rebellious daughter. Rachel Gesner is the older daughter, Margot, frail and quiet, especially in contrast to Anne.
Then we have the Van Daan family, Will Nissen as son Peter, Paula Ehrenberg as his mother and Gordon Wiener as his father. Each of them demonstrates strengths and weaknesses as they try to adjust to their cramped, secluded lives.
One more individual joins them, Mr. Dussel, a dentist, played by Charles Grayson. They are protected in hiding by Miep Gies (Annie Belkin) and Mr. Kraler (Jay Mattila.) As the war wears on, food shortages occur and tensions grow. But Anne never loses her spirit of fun. In a moving scene, she provides Hannakah gifts for everyone (even the cat) which she created through odds and ends in the attic.
The sadness comes as we realize that, even after the Allies’ invasion in Normandy, only Otto Frank survives. He finds Anne’s diary after the war, which led to its publication and eventual play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. It was newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman.
Stephen Catron’s set design ingeniously conveys the claustrophobic atmosphere of so many living in a small space. Costumes by Ann Lowe reflect the limits, cold and threadbare existence in the attic. Sound design by Bob Jokac and lighting design by Wendy Roome also enhance the sense of time passing and abrupt disruptions from the outside world.
All of this came together under the astute direction of KarenThornton, who captures the horror and humanity of an unforgettable time in world history. Performances of “The Diary of Anne Frank” continue through March 14 at The Summit Playhouse, located at 10 New England Avenue in Summit. For tickets, call 908-273-2192 or visit TheSummitPlayhouse.org.