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THEATER REVIEW: OnStage gives memorable production of “The Diary Of Anne Frank”

Anne Frank’s diary (which has been translated into some 60 languages) may have contributed more toward the understanding of the human tragedy of the Holocaust than any other single document.

Think of it: a 13-year-old girl, sequestered in a “secret annex” above her father’s office for 25 months with seven other people (only three of them related to her), keeping a diary of survival and fear, boredom and annoyance and the never knowing how it would turn out.

We all know how the story ended, but that doesn’t diminish its power, and the story of Anne and her annex mates serves as a microcosm of that horrible historical period.

The diary was adapted for the theater in 1955 by Francis Goodrich and Albert Hackett; the Broadway production won the Tony and the play the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Much later, the world found out that Otto had withheld from publication pages of the diary relating to Anne’s burgeoning sexuality and the extent of her alienation from her mother and sister. In 1995, the “definitive” edition of the diary was published, and playwright Wendy Kesselman got to work on a revision of the play.

OnStage Playhouse presents Kesselman’s 1997 revision of the play through Dec. 4, with Kym Pappas directing.

OnStage often surprises me with the quality of its productions. This time I was surprised by the total package. The lobby has photos of the residents of the annex and a wartime timeline; on the wall as you enter the theater are a whole group of Nazi posters; Pappas cleverly had the cast stay onstage during intermission (after all, they couldn’t have left in real life); and the opening night spread included kugel, potato latkes and chopped liver. Even more impressive, the short Hebrew sections in the play are impeccable (I took an expert along). And for atmosphere, they even put signs on the restroom doors reading (in German) “Jews not welcome here.”

The set uses the entire usable width of the stage and even moves slightly into the backstage area. In fact, the playing area looks larger than the living space in the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam.

A raised area serves as the Van Daans’ room; a few cots on stage left serve as the Franks’ space; and a table in the middle as the “common area.”

Lucia Vecchio is completely convincing as the irrepressible Anne, scribbling away in her diary, speaking directly to the audience, becoming aware of herself as a young woman with sexual feelings.

Mitchell Pfitzmeier is excellent as her 16-year-old counterpart, Peter Van Daan, who has the equally difficult job of portraying a young man in the throes of what Anne so charmingly calls “spring awakening.”

Sven Salumaa’s Otto evidences quiet strength and determination that is severely tested by the Van Daans’ complaints; his later transition to desperation is moving.

Laura Preble is less convincing as Edith Frank, whose frustration with both the situation and with Anne is evident.

Rachel Throesch is fine in the underwritten part of Anne’s older sister Margot.

OnStage artistic director Teri Brown is terrific as Mrs. Van Daan, the quintessential rich bitch whose affection for her full-length fur coat seems a bit out of place in this situation.

Greg McAfee’s Mr. Van Daan comes across as selfish and petty, traits which would probably be hidden under normal circumstances. But extreme conditions bring out the worst in many of us.

Anya Tuerk’s Miep Gies is exactly the kind of blonde angel of mercy I’d like to see in a situation like this, who comes bearing food, news and a kind word. Rob Conway as Miep’s boyfriend Mr. Kraler is also fine.

Finally, fussbudget dentist Mr. Dussel (Nick Young), adds a bit of levity with his quirky behavior.

Pappas has carefully directed this important story and has added just the right scary and/or annoying sounds and lights. The only scene that seems less than professional is the Nazi raid, which rather resembles a B-movie scene.

But that doesn’t diminish the power of Otto’s moving epilogue, in which he tells us what happened to each of them.

Bravo, OnStage, for a fine retelling of this unforgettable story.

The details

“The Diary Of Anne Frank” plays through Dec. 4 at OnStage Playhouse, 291 Third Ave., Chula Vista.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 pm.

For tickets call (619) 422-7787 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.