Northampton Press

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Theater Review: A memorable 'Diary' at DeSales' Act 1

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 by ELIZABETH OUELLETTE Special to The Press in Focus

The audience walks to their seats for the Act 1 DeSales University Theatre performance of "The Diary of Anne Frank," knowing the tragic final outcome that awaited Anne and her family. Yet still, the audience comes. For while the true life story of Anne Frank has an unhappy ending, in the end, it is Anne's spirit that triumphs.

"The Diary of Anne Frank" continues through March 2 on the Main Stage, Labuda Center for the Performing Arts, DeSales University, Center Valley.

The play, told through Anne's own diary entries, brings to life the story of young Anne, just 13, a Jewish girl in hiding with her family in 1942 during World War II in Holland.

Anne and her family hide to escape being forced into concentration camps. They move into the attic of her father's former office building, where they are provided for secretly by a kind woman, Miep, and the elderly Mr. Kraler. Also in hiding in the attic is the Jewish Van Daan family, and Mr. Dussel, a Jew who was a dentist.

Emma Santschi, a freshman at DeSales, plays Anne. With wide-eyed enthusiasm, Santschi conveys perfectly the idealism and frustrated rebellion of Anne as she struggles to make sense of the world around her, both inside the cramped isolation of the attic, and outside the building's walls. Anne, knowing that her friends and neighbors are killed every day, somehow remains positive.

Santschi brings a fresh approach to Anne that allows the audience to feel her simple everyday joys: the joy of developing a crush on young Peter, and the joy of daydreaming about life when she finally leaves the attic. With the subtle but powerful reading of pages of Anne's diary, Santschi expresses perfectly Anne's belief that "despite everything, people are good at heart."

Director Wayne S. Turney gathers a remarkable cast of young persons for the production. A particular standout is Brett Lawler, who plays Anne's beloved father. Lawler is able to portray the kindness and wisdom of Mr. Frank as a strength and not passive weakness. Lawler's understated performance honors Mr. Frank and we fall in love with him, just as Anne did, as the patriarch of the entire "attic family."

Despite running almost three hours, "The Diary of Anne Frank" moves quickly and keeps the audience's attention. A stirring undercurrent of fear seeps through the daily happenings of the attic family. When the police finally arrive and the attic family is found out, Mr. Frank utters, "Today we no longer live in fear. From now on we live in hope."

The spirit of hope is alive in the DeSales production of "The Diary of Anne Frank." The audience leaves the theater both saddened and inspired. One cannot help but think that "despite everything, people are good at heart."