ALTHOUGH "The Diary of Anne Frank" is considered a pillar of Holocaust literature, it is not entirely about the Holocaust. In a sense, it succeeds all the more because it acquaints us with some of the human lives that are later destroyed in Hitler's death camps. Giving a face to the incomprehensible number of people who were murdered and families that were destroyed makes the Holocaust both more accessible and more horrific.
"One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did, but whose faces have remained in the shadows," says Primo Levi, author and Holocaust survivor. "Perhaps it is better that way: If we were capable of taking in the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live."
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival breathes life once again into the characters of Anne (Laura Morache), her family, and the four other Jews living with them in a secret annex, the attic above the business formerly owned by Otto Frank (Tony DeBruno), Anne's father. The Franks are forced into hiding when Anne's sister Margot (Sarah Rutan) is listed for deportation to one of the Nazi concentration camps. They are joined by the van Daan family, and later Mr. Dussel (Michael Elich).
This classic play has not been previously produced at OSF. Unlike the blander, sanitized version of the story with which you may be familiar, Wendy Kesselman's 1997 adaptation of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett's original 1955 play shows Anne as a real teenager charming, mischievous, full of angst, joy, rebellion and discovery, maturing along with her writing. Anne addresses her diary as if it were a person, her personal confidante, so the play works well when she speaks to the audience.
Kesselman's script also reintroduces Jewish content that was originally removed to promote a universal story to an American public thought to be unwilling to hear about atrocities against specific cultures. This enriches the story.
The people living in the annex do not lose their usual characteristics and behaviors just because they must hide to survive. Bickering and disagreements are part of normal life. Yet they take on heightened meaning, importance and even danger in these circumstances, especially as directed here by James Edmonson. Despite the horror and hardship, laughter and good humor sustain these people more often than not.
Edmondson and his excellent cast deftly capture the essence of each person as an individual. The only weakness surfaces when they have to do or say something specifically Jewish. Then their actions or pronunciations at times lack authenticity. The strength of the story lies in the universality of these characters, though.
The strength of the message, on the other hand, depends on their differences, in their role as scapegoats and targets of "racial cleansing."
Richard Hay's expansive, multi-level set is beautifully designed, a cracked open image of the annex where the Franks lived for two years during Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. This rendering allows the rooms to be concurrently visible, presented as a tableau. Unfortunately, some of the claustrophobic tightness of the actual space is lost, but the actors manage to convey the sense of confinement and the extreme frustration it induces.
The authentic costumes designed by B. Modern, while adaptable and cleverly modified, for example, to accommodate a "growing" girl, do not convey the ravages of the passage of time. They remain as fresh as when the characters first arrive at the annex, and we are reminded that only 21/2hours have passed.
One interesting effect is the importance of the lack of sound in David Weberg's sound design. Since the characters cannot make noise during the day, silence becomes as critical and pronounced as other sounds. The attentive audience did not break the intensity, almost holding their collective breath until the "all clear."
As historian and journalist Judith Miller writes, "We must remind ourselves that the Holocaust was not 6 million. It was one, plus one, plus one (Only thus) is the incomprehensible given meaning."
Anne's story is one of many that needs to be told. OSF tells it well, with sensitivity, subtlety and heart, provoking important discussions, especially for the next generation who have yet to meet her.
-The Oregon Shakespeare Festival features 11 shows in rotating repertory. "The Diary of Anne Frank" plays in the Angus Bowmer Theatre through July 9. For more information call (541) 482-4331 or visit
Bay Area arts writer Adina Kletter is reviewing several current productions at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.