Director Lois Haas takes three routes to refresh Appleseed Productions‘ version of The Diary of Anne Frank. One is small, dealing with the accents. With tutoring from voice coach Marcia Mele, all people confined in the secret upper room speak with muted German accents: “anyone” becomes “anyvun.” This reminds us that we always think of Anne as Dutch; her vulnerable family had fled Germany to be in Holland. Such safety would vanish.
Secondly, Haas has cast age-specific actors in the roles of Anne and the reluctant Van Daan boy, Peter. Manlius Pebble Hill student Lauren Koss appears to have benefited from voice and movement training in someone so young, striking the right tone of independence without seeming too precocious. Luke Tarnow-Bulatowicz gives us a gawky and reluctant Peter, making his scenes of tenderness with Anne especially affecting. The high school audience during a preview performance was giddy with delight.
Haas’ third innovation concerns the set. Much of the action is beyond the proscenium and onto the Appleseed floor, setting back audience tables. While this reduces the claustrophobia usually found in other productions, she also speeds up action as characters move between different family “islands,” leaving the fractious Van Daans, the vain and querulous wife (Theresa Constantine) and food-snitching husband (Keith Arlington).
Although this staging remains faithful to the optimism found in the Frances Goodrich-Albert Hackett adaptation (“People are good at heart”), director Haas signals her awareness of criticism from writers like Cynthia Ozick of the entire enterprise. Robert Miller’s Otto Frank is underplayed, a martyr not necessarily a saint. Sharon Sorkin gives us a youthful Mrs. Frank (34 in life), a misguided authoritarian but not a villain. And Debbie Duvall’s evocative costumes help to define subtle degrees of status and personality, as well as really looking like they came from the 1940s.
Appleseed Productions’ The Diary of Anne Frank continues this week with performances on Friday, Oct. 24, and Saturday, Oct. 25, 8 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 26, 2 p.m., at the Atonement Lutheran Church, 116 W. Glen Ave.