Sophia Manicone as Anne Frank in Reston Community Players' The Diary of Anne Frank/Jennifer Heffner Photography
You may think you remember The Diary of Anne Frank from reading the book years ago, but you don't remember it the way the Reston Community Players present it.
This is one of the best productions I have seen over many years of attending theatre in Washington. Its timing coincides with the sad reality that discrimination exists, and the world witnesses, for whatever reasons, increasing anti-Semitism.
The production, expertly directed by Gloria DuGan, brings the horror to the stage: Hunted like animals by the Nazis, confined to the small quarters of an attic, eight persons, young and old, related or not, live an existence necessary to save lives.
No one can escape for a breath of fresh air, to take a walk, to get away from the living cell which, ultimately, saved only one life, Anne's father's.
There are no lapses here. The production has it all, told in an unemotional way, until the end. And Anne records it, writing in her diary from June 12, 1942, the day she turned 13, until August 1, 1944, three days before the families were arrested.
The acting is superb and that Sophia Manicone, who stars as Anne, is only a ninth grader, is astonishing. She shows maturity and acting ability far beyond her years.
When the Van Daans (Michael Sherman and Lorraine Magee) fight and argue, their movements, words, and gestures are so realistic to generate the feeling of peeping Toms among audience members. They are the parents of Peter (Logan Matthew Baker) who becomes Anne's boyfriend.
A substitute actor at the last moment was Judy Lewis who played Anne's mother in a sound and realistic performance, although she always carried a script during the show. Since she knew her lines well, this bit of small baggage seemed unnecessary.
Costumer Judy Whelihan dresses the females in 1940s garb, naturally enough: heels, dresses and skirts. Gentlemen wear period clothing, as well. Casual clothing is not part of this play, and one could not help wonder if the people actually dressed up while hiding, for "dressing up" then compared to now is entirely different.
Lighting design by Franklin Coleman was excellent, and no scene had any lighting miscues which almost seems standard in many productions.
The set by Maggie Modig and Sandy Dotson is well drawn and duplicates as much as possible the actual quarters where the families lived.
Stage center is a wooden, rectangular kitchen table where the residents often gathered for talk. Elevated platforms hold segregated sections for sleeping quarters. A bathroom provides a means of "escape" when it's needed for mental health and other reasons.
A window in the roof duplicates the one in the annex where Anne often sat and daydreamed, and she described it in her diary. From the window the outdoor scene shows a grey overcast sky until near the end of the play when it becomes a rectangular painting with beautiful colors, a church spire, and the branches of a chestnut tree.
The script contains diary passages which Anne stops to read every so often under a spotlight while the other actors stand motionless behind her in the shadows or they move slowly about the kitchen:
The fact that we can never go outside bothers me more than I can say, and then I'm really afraid that we'll be discovered and shot, not a very nice prospect, needless to say. [July 11, 1942]*
Applause to Dan Moses Schreier and Stan Harris who filled the stage with the reminiscent sounds of the times, the soldiers' shouts, sirens, and the eerily isolated whistles from horrible trains carrying millions to their deaths.
The Diary of Anne Frank has a wretched ending, and the cast comes out afterwards to the stage in the dark to stand glumly in a line to receive audience praise until the lights go dark again, and the curtain closes. Lest we forget.
Other cast members in The Diary are Michael Kharfen as Anne's father, Madison Chase, Steven Palkovitz, Earle Greene, Jessi Shull, Francis Kosciesza, Kevin Carrington, and Ian Brown.
Assisting in the production are Diane P. Mullens, producer: Jessica Carrington, stage manager; Kevin Carrington, assistant stage manager; Tom Geutig, special effects and master carpenter; Mary Jo Ford, properties; and Sara Birkhead, lead electrician.
I hope the following receive WATCH nominations:
Dan Moses Schreier and Stan Harris, Best Sound
Franklin Coleman, Best Lighting
Michael Kharfen, Best Actor who leads the play with his forceful personality
Michael Sherman, Best Supporting Actor
Lorraine Magee, Best Supporting Actress
Just imagine how interesting it would be if I were to publish a romance of the "Secret Annex." The title alone would be enough to make people think it was a detective story. But, seriously, it would be quite funny 10 years after the war if we Jews were to tell how we lived and what we ate and talked about here. Although I tell you a lot, still, even so, you only know very little of our lives.
[March 29, 1944]*
Who: Reston Community Players
What: The Diary of Anne Frank by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman
When: Only two shows remain: March 13 and 14 at 8 p.m.
Where: Reston Community Center, 2310 Colts Neck Road, Reston, VA 20191
Tickets: Buy online, at the box office at the Community Center, or call 703-476-4500 and press 3 for 24-hour service. $28, adults; $24, students and seniors. $15 student tickets are available through RCP’s "Access to the Arts." To reserve tickets within these special blocks, contact Ali Althen at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Reston Community Center’s box office is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 4 - 9 p.m.; Saturday from 1 - 5 p.m.; and 2 hours before any ticketed performance.
Ages: For families and appropriate for all ages but may be too intense for children under age 10.
*Thank you to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for the use of these passages from Anne's diary.