The Diary of Anne Frank at the IRT: A Review

The Indiana Repertory Theater is currently running The Diary of Anne Frank, a co-production with the Seattle Children’s Theater. It will continue at the OneAmerica Stage in downtown Indianapolis through Feb. 24, 2019. The play is like stepping into Anne’s diary and living her life from the time her family flees to the attic through the time of their capture, and beyond.

frank family
Pre-production photo of Otto, Anne, Margot, and Edith Frank – Image via IRT

Summary

The play faithfully follows the lives of the real Frank family as they flee into hiding in Amsterdam during World War II. (For another WWII-related post, click here.) Anne, her older sister Margot, and her parents Otto and Edith join the Van Daans and their son Peter, and then Mr. Dussel, safely hidden away in “the annex,” the attic space behind an office building. The play is somewhat book-ended by Anne’s voice reading from her diary, beginning as a young, curious, excited young girl, and later, a still optimistic, yet grown young woman, with perhaps the most famous quote form her diary: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” (Here are a few reasons why journaling is good for you!) In-between, the play follows her growth from child to adult, and her relationships as they change in that small and restricted environment.

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The Performance

Brilliant direction and seasoned actors come together to bring this story to life. In particular, I was most impressed by the performances of Peter Artzberger and Constance Macy. Artzberger, as Anne’s father, Otto Frank, subtly but effortlessly conveyed his affection for his over-enthusiastic and adoring younger daughter while also visibly wearing the ongoing strain of a father in constant fear and anxiety. He was seemingly the first to stiffen at the distant sound of footsteps or airplanes and the last to relax afterward, without stealing focus from the scene unnecessarily. Macy, on the other hand, was a delightful and welcome scene-stealer. As Peter’s mother, unlike Anne’s own reserved mother, Macy took every opportunity to turn a line, a look, or a gesture into a real moment, from tearfully funny to heart-wrenching, as the moment when her fur coat is taken away to be sold.

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Promotional artwork – Image via Arts Channel Indy

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The Design Elements

The stage, as the annex, is necessarily full of people throughout nearly the entire play which serves as a constant reminder of the suffocating lack of privacy, especially for an extroverted, adolescent girl. It is mostly the lighting that serves to draw focus and “hide” actors not immediately relevant to a scene, without obstructing them completely. There is a radio on set that is used for news from the outside world, and otherwise, most sound effects are rare and alarming: planes, bombings, even, and occasionally, dogs barking. This is perhaps what makes the arrival of the Nazi soldiers at the end so terrifying: they arrive in absolute silence, simply arising from the staircase downstage center, unannounced even by their dogs.

anne and otto
Production photo of Otto and Anne Frank – Image via IRT

My Takeaway

With only praise for every element of this production, it is my opinion that the brightest star of this play is the sound, or lack thereof. The actors were all, at any given time, wearing or not wearing shoes, and the visual and auditory impact was striking. Depending on the action on stage, hearing or not hearing that background noise of those on the floor, the attempt at quietness and whispering, or the careless and free speaking and walking, varied. Watching lively, excitable Anne Frank learn, explore, and grow in this selectively silent environment was absolutely thrilling.

Have you had a chance to see this play yet? Leave a comment!

Header image via Biography

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