Theater Review: Very Moving ‘Diary of Anne Frank’ at Bay Street

Last Friday night’s performance of The Diary of Anne Frank left the Bay Street Theatre audience in tears.

For nearly two hours, without a pause or intermission, the eight actors who were onstage the entire time, and two that came and went, held us in captivation; waiting, in anticipation, for news of the war’s end. Anyone who’s read the book knows the story doesn’t end well, and yet throughout the play, I felt myself holding strong to the hope of a happy ending. Perhaps it was Anne’s upbeat, eternal optimism that fed a glimmer of hope. Anne confided in her diary—holding fast to a vision of the outside world—of once again riding her bike and being with friends, yet she wrote honestly about what was going on around her as rations dwindled and quarrels escalated.

The Diary of Anne Frank, as a story of two families and one stranger hiding for two years in an attic, extends beyond the tragedy of World War II history. It shows how people cope differently in times of crisis and the importance of forgiveness and acceptance in maintaining civility. It gives us a glimpse of ourselves. Inside Bay Street Theatre, looking down onto the stage, we could identify with members of the Frank and Van Daan families, as if seeing our own human existence from above.

Anne’s well-mannered, hardworking elder sister, Margo, played by the beautiful Georgia Warner, retreats to her books, while Anne, played by Jessica Mortallaro, convincing as a teenage girl who sways back and forth between wanting to be an adult and yet has childlike outbursts, is sustained by her hopes and dreams, her crush on Peter Van Daan, and of course her journal. Mrs. Frank maintains order by preparing and clearing the table for meals, refraining from speaking her mind until a final moment of collapse. She breaks down upon catching Mr. Van Daan sneaking a piece of bread at night. At the moment of her one and only release of anger, all of the other characters step back into line, trying to convince her to forgive the perpetrator. In human relationships it so often seems that when one person weakens, others are forced to be stronger. The at-times-intolerable Mr. & Mrs. Van Daan keep to their old ways of life; Mr. Van Daan smoking his cigarettes and eating more than the rest while Mrs. Van Daan struggles to keep up appearances, clinging to her fur coat as if it stood for all that she is. Kate Mueth, artistic director of the dance company Neo-Political Cowgirls, plays Mrs. Van Daan—she does a fantastic job. In fact, all of the acting was outstanding—Sawyer Avery as Peter Van Daan, Terrence Fiore as Mr. Dussel, Keith Cornelius as Mr. Frank, Lydia Franco-Hodges as Mrs. Frank, Chloe Dirsken as Miep, Joe Pallister as Mr. Kraler, and Josh Gladstone, artistic director of the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall, as Mr. Van Daan.

Directed by Joe Minutello, the heart-wrenching tragedy was delivered with moments of humor and tenderness. The set, with one central living area and single beds lofted up and behind it, allowed for plenty of movement on stage and for characters to interact privately in different sections. Anne’s soliloquy readings from her diary were dramatic and poignant, lit from above. The play, written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, based on the book The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, first appeared on Broadway in 1955, relatively shortly after Anne’s death in 1945.

November 22 and 23 at 7 p.m., and on the 26 at 10 a.m. Call 631-725-9500 or visit baystreet.org. Bay Street Theatre is located on the Long Wharf in Sag Harbor.

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