The Diary of Anne Frank is not Shakespeare or Aeschylus. Tragedy takes on a different tone when the audience is filled with people who are contemporaries of the play’s doomed heroine: Anne Frank would be 75 now, had she not died in Bergen-Belsen in 1945. In her famous diary, and in its 1955 theatrical adaptation, she is forever a teenager, prancing in new red shoes, anticipating her first kiss, hanging movie-star pinups on the wall of her room. The room, mind you, is in the hidden annex of an Amsterdam warehouse, where Anne’s family and other Jews have fled for their lives. A play with this content—eight people hiding from an unavoidable enemy, seven of whom will survive less than a year after their capture—would be impossible to bear without this teenager. Played winningly, and sometimes hilariously, by Lea Michele, Anne is like one of Gilda Radner’s giddy geeks on Saturday Night Live, so packed with pent-up energy that no one can relax around her. Not that there aren’t other difficult people in the Amsterdam attic, including the weak-willed Van Daans (Sherri L. Edelen and Rick Foucheux) and the grouchy Mr. Dussel (Mitchell Hébert). If hell isn’t other people in these cramped quarters, it’s only because of the ever-present knowledge of the hell just outside. Round House’s production doesn’t take many chances with the conventionally mid-20th-century script, written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and adapted by Wendy Kesselman; it just goes deeply into its people. From the slump in the shoulders of plain older sister Margot (Bess Rous) to the peevish twitchiness of Dussel—who shares a room with Anne—to the serenity-turned-despair of Anne’s mother (Kathryn Kelley), director Rebecca Bayla Taichman and her cast use small details to skillfully render ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. The detail sometimes becomes too absorbing: The actors even stay, in character, on James Kronzer’s meticulous set, with its screened-off rooms in drab gray and hospital green, through intermission, folding blankets and talking inaudibly. And sometimes during the play, your eyes occasionally wander to the periphery to see what the “offstage” folks are up to. The only other threat to this production is the character of Otto Frank: Is it cynical to say that this sole survivor of the camps to which the group was sent after over two years in captivity, the ultimate publisher of his daughter’s diary, comes across as unshakably noble? Gary Sloan’s portrayal is somewhat stiff and stagy at the play’s opening. But ample scenes of Michele scribbling in the small book, either reading aloud or in voice-over, remind the audience who’s telling this story: someone for whom Daddy is a hero. And Sloan wears the role well over the course of the story; after his epilogue, delivered with an understated, almost bewildered sorrow, no one feels much like applauding, though the cast members—particularly the vibrant Michele—deserve ovations.
—Pamela Murray Winters