Millegan: Poignant portrayal of the best and worst of humanity

September 17, 2010 

  • 'The Diary of Anne Frank'

    • RATING: ***

    • WHERE: Stage 3 Theatre, 208 S. Green St., Sonora

    • WHEN: Through Oct. 10. 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays

    • RUNNING TIME: 2½ hours, including an intermission

    • TICKETS: $12-$20

    • INFORMATION: 536-1778 or www.stage3.org

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SONORA -- Ten years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit the secret annex in Amsterdam where Anne Frank, her family and others hid for two years.

I was stunned at the contrast between the beauty of the city and the horror of the events that occurred there in the not-so-distant past.

Those feelings came back as I watched Stage 3 Theatre's production of "The Diary of Anne Frank" on Thursday. It's hard to understand how such a cultured community could stoop to such depths as eliminating a whole group of people just because of its Jewish faith.

Director Don Bilotti's staging makes the book so many of us read in school come alive and offers a poignant look at a doomed people trying to enjoy life in impossible circumstances.

It's touching to watch the families' meager Hanukkah celebration in their hide-out, and it's unbearably sad to watch the final jarring scene with the families happily enjoying strawberries when the Nazis arrest them. Of the eight people hiding in the annex, only Anne's father, Otto, survived the concentration camps and World War II.

Stage 3 is presenting Wendy Kesselman's 1997 adaptation of the original 1955 play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. This version stresses the darker aspects of Anne's world and her Jewish identity.

Tiny Stage 3 Theatre, which seats only 80, is the perfect venue to convey the cramped quarters the Franks and the others lived in. Tommy Johnston's set is one of the best I've ever seen at Stage 3, with spaces for different rooms and an attic with a view of a tree.

Although the acting is uneven, with some performers forcing emotions rather than letting them unfold naturally, the power of the story is undiminished.

Kaitlyn Brennan, the Connections Academy sophomore who stars in the title role, portrays Anne as a normal, active teen who finds it difficult to slow down and be quiet in the annex. She flirts with the one teenage boy in the hide-out, practices dancing with her sister and regularly clashes with her mother. She also shows genuine terror of her fate.

Steve Coniglio is almost saintly as Anne's father, while Lori Sammis is closed off and nervous as Anne's mother, Edith. Alisa Adkins is uniformly meek as Anne's sister, Margot.

The fireworks in the show come from the bickering Van Daan family, portrayed by Sid Marsh as the father, Catherine Gordon as the mother and Zac Price as their teen son, Peter. Marsh and Gordon seem the most at ease in their roles, making it easy to believe they're really a long-married couple. Stephen Daly is fussy and easily frustrated as the dentist, Dr. Dussel, who arrives at the hide-out months after the others.

Lahna VonEpps and John Dahlen make infrequent appearances as Miep and Mr. Kraler, respectively, Otto Frank's Christian friends who bring the annex residents supplies.

"The Diary of Anne Frank" shows humanity at its best and worst and is a moving portrayal of one of the darkest times in recent history.

For more on Modesto area arts, visit www.twitter.com/milleganrenner and visit Bee Scene on video at www.modbee.com/videos.

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