Almost everyone knows the story of Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl who hid from the Nazis with her family in the secret annex of a building on an ordinary street in Amsterdam, and the diary that kept her soul — and her story — alive. Anne and her parents, Otto and Edith Frank, and her sister, Margot, shared the space with their neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan and their teenage son, Peter. A little later, a terrified dentist, Mr. Dussel, sought shelter there. Eight people were crammed into the tiny space, forced into silence through the daylight hours, sharing a single toilet that could only be flushed after dark. Added to the tension was the shared knowledge of what was happening outside and the sounds of German voices, BBC news reports and Allied bombings.
The Diary of Anne Frank reveals the inner life of a bright, precocious girl, full of life, inchoate longings and contradictions. At the beginning she’s thirteen, all irrepressible id, but as she matures, she becomes gentler and more thoughtful, ruminating about what it means to be Jewish, speaking of sex, her body — and the feelings beginning to stir for Peter.
There are flaws in the script (adapted by Wendy Kesselman in 1997 from the original 1957 version by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett), but it’s hard to imagine a better production than the one directed by Christy Montour-Larson at the Arvada Center. I had seen the play before, but this is the first staging that brought tears to my eyes. Those tears were a response to the horror of the war and what we know about Anne’s fate, of course, but they also arose unexpectedly for the daily griefs of the annex inhabitants: the usually decent man so hungry he steals bread meant to be shared; the woman clinging to the luxurious fur coat that represents her sole connection to the life she’s lost; the tremulous, neurotic dentist whom Anne loathes and no one else particularly likes. In short, the daily squabbling and humiliation of people robbed of privacy and a sense of individual identity.