Sunday, April 6, 2003

'Diary' offers powerful portrayal of hope

By Joseph McDonough
Enquirer contributor

"I want to go on living, even after my death."

With these words, young Anne Frank wrote of the anxious vitality she found in compiling her famous diary while she hid from the Nazis with her family and a few other Amsterdam Jews in a secret attic above a factory during World War II.

In a sense she has outlived the concentration camps through the endearing diary itself and its various stage and screen adaptations.

The Ovation Theatre Company is presenting the regional premiere of the 1997 Broadway version of The Diary of Anne Frank by Wendy Kesselman, which is an update of the 1955 Pulitzer prize-winning play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.

This new version includes portions of the diary such as inevitable family squabbles, innocent passages of budding sexuality, and (ironically enough) an emphasis on the Jewish faith of the characters that were withheld from the original publication of the diary in 1947.

Thanks to a strong cast and solid direction by Patrick S. Downey, Ovation's production is powerful and moving.

First and foremost is Jennifer Hoguet as Anne. She has the bright-beyond-her-years spunk and dramatic flair of Anne that brings this teenager to life.

She instills the show and her character with a lively sense of hope that makes the tragedy we know is coming all the more poignant.

Lisa Hall Breithaupt and David Hughes give terrific performances as a worried-to-the-core Mrs. Frank, nicely balanced by always positive and jovial Mr. Frank.

Breithaupt in particular is quite compelling, projecting the overwhelming weariness of this poor woman who senses the end is near for herself and her family and fears she can do nothing about it.

Also standing out are Burt McCollom and Judy Malone as the always bickering Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan.

Together they deliver two of the show's best moments: when Mrs. Van Daan is forced to sell her prized fur coat and later when she comforts him after he is accused of stealing food.

Jon Vater scores several subtle laughs as the fidgety dentist, Mr. Dussel.

The nicely cluttered makeshift home is also designed by Downey.

A quibble is that Downey's blocking could use some small adjustments to keep the actors from standing on top of each other at times, though the play does take place in a crowded attic.

The Diary of Anne Frank, through April 19, Ovation Theatre Company, Aronoff Center Fifth Third Bank Theater, 241-7469.

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