First staged on Broadway in 1955, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Diary of Anne Frank remains a moving, timely and important production. It’s set during World War II in the Netherlands, where eight Jews are hunkered down in a tiny upstairs apartment, hiding from the Nazis. But it could unfold in any time or place, whenever a crazed, power-hungry madman turns his wrath on an innocent minority. The production is onstage at Asheville Community Theatre through Sunday, April 29.
Yes, this is a heavy load for audiences to absorb. There is no happy ending here and a lot of terror along the way. But director Adam Cohen includes enough lighter moments to ease the bleakness. And he’s greatly aided by this talented cast, led by 13-year-old Faith Creech as Anne. She seems to completely understand the character and makes viewers laugh and cry. And, ultimately, she breaks the hearts of the audience members. Her performance is worth the price of the ticket.
But there’s strong support all around, especially from Thomas Trauger as Anne’s father, Otto Frank, and last-minute cast addition Robert Dale Walker as the grouchy dentist Mr. Dussel, who disrupts this bunch when he moves into the crowded apartment.
None of these characters wants to be in this virtual prison, but they have no choice as Hitler is rounding up the Jews and sending them to death camps.
The Frank family includes Anne’s mother, Edith (Samantha Gonzalez-Block), and their quiet, older daughter, Margot (Grace Derenne).
Also sharing this cramped space is the van Daan family — the bitter and greedy father (Marc Cameron); the oblivious mother (Kathy O’Connor), forever clutching her fur coat; and their son Peter (Brendan Nickerson), who at first is an annoyance to Anne and then becomes her friend.
Bringing them food are Kraler (Paul Clark) and Miep (Rachel Adams).
There are many subtle touches here, including the scenic design by Jack Lindsay, costumes by Carina Lopez and lighting by Bryan Marks.
The real Anne faithfully recorded all this drama in her diary, which became the play, written by Frances Goodman and Albert Hackett, and is newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman.
In the story, Anne tries to live as normal a life as anyone could in this situation, even as her world crumbles around her. She mostly keeps a bright attitude, believing that people are basically good at heart. It is that touching philosophy that makes The Diary of Anne Frank a must-see show.
WHAT: The Diary of Anne Frank
WHERE: Asheville Community Theatre, 35 E. Walnut St. ashevilletheatre.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, April 29. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m. $26/$12 children younger than 17