Nancy Sasso Janis
OnStage Connecticut Critic / Connecticut Critics Circle
“I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!” - Anne Frank
Thomaston, CT - Landmark Community Theatre’s production of ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ opened at the Thomaston Opera House this weekend. This achingly beautiful production of the play written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and adapted by Wendy Kesselman was directed by Lucia Dressel. Ms. Dressel welcomed the small but mighty matinee audience to the Opera House and warned us that the actors would be using the main door, the aisles and the pit area during the performance.
In her director’s note, Ms. Dressel reminds us that Anne Frank was an ordinary girl thrust into the horrifying circumstances of the Holocaust which she did not survive. She may not have done anything we would deem heroic, and yet the journey that she records in her diary is both real and timeless. “It’s at once heartbreaking and triumphant” and sets out to take us on a journey to believe in the goodness of people so that “Anne lives in us again.” Every audience member knew that this would not be an easy journey and yet we appreciated the dedication of this talented cast to bring this heart-wrenching story to life. To say it was emotionally charged is to put it mildly; the underlying terror and sadness was palpable throughout the two acts, but thankfully there were some lighter moments.
Aric Martin and Joshua Luszczak played terrifying German soldiers in the final scene and James Wood accompanied them on that fateful day. Joshua J. Gogol, a homeschooled sophomore, played young Peter Van Daan and he was exactly how I pictured him while reading the book. Amy Kopchik (Backyard Theater Ensemble’s ‘Extremities’) was perfect as the caring and brave Miep Gies; her bio states that “As a history enthusiast, she believes the story of the Annex is important not only as a reminder of the Holocaust, but as a memorial of love, perseverance, and the unyielding passion of the human spirit.”
Casey McKenna played Peter’s father Mr. Van Daan and Dianna Waller, in her Landmark debut, was a bit of comic relief in the strong personality of his wife. Suzanne Powers (Landmark’s ‘Billy Elliot’) did an admirable job of bringing to life the mother of Anne and Margo, Edith Frank. Woodbury resident Dennis Walsh played Mr. Kraler who helped to hide the families.
Bret R. Bisaillon, a teacher at Kingsbury Elementary School in Waterbury by day, played well the dentist Mr. Dussel who becomes Anne’s roommate in the Annex. Johnny Revicki was perfectly cast as Anne’s father, Otto Frank, in his Landmark debut. As the only member of the group to survive the Holocaust, he brought us to tears in the final scene when he goes back to the Annex after the war had ended.
Twelve year old Lexi White was also perfectly cast in the title role. She captured the spirit of a very young Anne, and showed us the beginnings of maturity by the end of the play. Jenny Dressel made her TOH debut in the role of Margot Frank under the direction of her mother, and gave a very strong performance.
The set designed by Wes Baldwin and the director made effective use of the small stage to convey the tightness of the place where the eight people hid for over two years in Amsterdam. Barbara Piscopo designed the period perfect costumes; the yellow stars were hard to see but of course necessary. Carefully selected props also added authenticity. Joshua Peterson designed the effective lighting and the sound worked perfectly. Dr. Zvi Goldman and Ed Bassett consulted with language and history.
‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ is presented with a fifteen minute intermission and the actors remained onstage for the entire time,since they could never leave the Annex. In the program there is a beautiful “In Memoriam” page that pays tribute to the residents of the annex and the people who hid them. The show runs through April 2 with a special weekday performance that will be on March 23 at 10:00am.
The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect is thrilled to be invited to share the exhibition Anne Frank: A History for Today with the Thomaston community. Through the traveling exhibits, educator workshops, trainings and performance pieces, the Center shares the message of Anne’s diary to empower students, families, and communities to celebrate our differences and work together to build a world based on mutual respect. Anne Frank: A History for Today was developed by the Anne Frank House and is sponsored in North America by the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect.
Photos by Lisa Cherie