Rose-colored memories

Ocean State's 'Diary of Anne Frank'
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  April 9, 2014

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WRITING IT DOWN Gesualdi. [Photo by Mark Turek]

Incessant media accounts of horrific events can prompt compassion fatigue. That millions of Jews, gays, Romani, and others were killed by Germans many years ago can seem remote, but their plight embodied by one spirited girl has remained immediate for more than half a century.

The Diary of Anne Frank, by Frances Good-rich and Albert Hackett, is being staged by Ocean State Theatre Company (through April 13), directed by Amiee Turner. The perfectly cast production is affecting, though the adaptation itself is rather bland, the characters one-dimensional.

This version of the play — a revision was staged in 1997 — came to Broadway in 1955, eight years after Anne’s father had her words published in Holland. On the first anniversary of its New York premiere, the play opened simultaneously in seven cities in Germany.

We’re introduced to the story by Anne’s father, Otto (Mark S. Cartier), as he returns right after the war to the Amsterdam attic where his family was hidden for two years, until they were discovered and distributed to concentration camps. He confesses to the woman who harbored them, Miep Gies (Sarah Pierce), that he is “a bitter old man.” His reading of the diary that was left there frames the play and, perhaps by the end, his bitterness is lessened somewhat by memories of his daughter’s sweet playfulness.

Our first sight of the Frank family combines mild visual humor with visual shock. They are layered in all the clothes they could wear, since they couldn’t display their intent with suitcases. But glaring on their coats are yellow Stars of David, which Jews were made to wear so they wouldn’t be accorded ordinary rights, such as riding streetcars. In addition to Anne (Olivia Gesualdi) and her father, the Frank family is filled out by Mrs. Frank (Karen Gail Kessler) and Anne’s older sister Margot (Alexandra Fortin), neither of whom we hear very much from.

Good-natured Mr. Frank used to own the business below the attic sanctuary. He must have treated his workers well, since former employees Miep and Mr. Kraler (Rudy Sanda) endanger themselves by being his links to the outside. In return for an earlier kindness, Mr. Frank allows the Van Daan family to join them. The imperious Mr. Van Daan (Ethan Paulini) and the flirtatious Mrs. Van Daan (Elise Arsenault) can be annoying, bickering over such things as her sentimental attachment to her fur coat. But making up for them, to Anne, is their 16-year-old son, Peter (Brian Roque). After she teases and annoys him for a while, can an innocent first kiss be far behind?

The Franks’ last guest is Mr. Dussel (Tommy Labanaris), a dentist who tells them that Jews are now being shipped to death camps, including Anne’s best friend. He is supposed to stay only a few days, but he remains. In character, the self-centered Mr. Van Daan’s reflexive response is to object to increasing their ranks to eight, because having only three ration books is already limiting their food.

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