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DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, THE - Review - Theater - New York ...


Ms. Kesselman's reworking of the original script, which incorporates new material from the complete editions of the diaries made available in the last decade, goes a long way in redressing such objections. The Goodrich-Hackett script, under the director Garson Kanin's supervision, had bleached out much of its source's specific ethnic content for fear of alienating mainstream audiences. Correspondingly, the unspeakable destiny that awaited Anne was eclipsed by a disproportionate emphasis on the girl's idealism.

This new interpretation never relaxes its awareness of the hostile world beyond the attic that was the Franks' sanctuary and prison for two claustrophobic years, nor of the religious identity that made them a quarry. The earlier version began in a scene of sentimental hindsight, with Anne's father discovering her diaries; this one leaps, with a gripping immediacy, into medias res.

Adrianne Lobel's set, modeled as closely as the Music Box permits on the rooms behind Otto Frank's offices where the family lived, is in full view when we arrive. And for any reader of the diaries, it is hauntingly eloquent before any actor appears.

So is the entrance of the Franks themselves: Otto (Mr. Hearn); his wife, Edith (Sophie Hayden), and their daughters, Margot (Missy Yager) and Ms. Portman's Anne, who arrive onstage wet and disoriented from the rainy trip to their new home. As they turn to us, struggling out of their coats, the large yellow stars sewn onto their clothes are suddenly, glaringly visible.

It's a wonderful piece of staging, unforced yet emphatic; it establishes Judaism, and the ways it is perceived, as the Franks' central defining identity. ''Look, it's still there,'' says Anne of the shadow of the star that remains after she has torn it off.

Indeed. Perplexed, often defiant references to what it means to be a Jew in the occupied Netherlands abound in the diaries, and Ms. Kesselman has incorporated as many as time allows: from Anne's catalogue of the activities forbidden Jews in Amsterdam to her vision of a former classmate in a concentration camp. The evolving sophistication of her writing about the world around her is far more evident now. So is her lyrical consideration of her burgeoning sexuality, and Ms. Kesselman has included a beautiful passage, nicely read by Ms. Portman, in which the girl describes the transporting effects of pictures of female nudes in art books.

As welcome as these additions are, one wishes that the voice-overs in which many of them are delivered had been less clumsily amplified. The effect is bizarre, as if Anne had found a public-address system in that attic. And there is also the sense that in combing through the rich trove of the unedited diaries, Ms. Kesselman was hard put to select just what to use. There is an occasional feeling of material being shoehorned in and confusingly truncated.

This gives the production a fragmentary quality its predecessor didn't have. Mr. Lapine's staging doesn't always accommodate the lapses from slice-of-life naturalism, though there are moments throughout, particularly among the younger actors, where everything clicks into place. And the climactic scene that finds the characters festively eating strawberries just before they are captured is everything it should be: a wrenching but impeccably rendered fall from what has become ordinary life into perdition.

Presumably, with further time the talented cast -- which includes Ms. Lavin, Harris Yulin, Austin Pendleton and the young Jonathan Kaplan as the other inhabitants of the annex -- will grow into a more comfortable ensemble. As it is, all the actors reach isolated, individual heights, most notably in the second act, when the stress of confinement finally brings out the Darwinian animal in everyone.

But in the first act, the performers are still oddly stiff as a team, and there's a sense, in ways that go beyond their characters' discomfort with unfamiliar circumstances, that they have yet to find a shared rhythm.

As the endlessly patient father, Mr. Hearn has an expressly theatrical, heroic voice and carriage that don't provide the troubled, affectionate shading to convey his all-important relationship with Anne. Ms. Lavin brings an impressive technical bravura to the role of the vain, anxious Mrs. Van Daan that achieves some splendid effects, as in a stunning new monologue for the character, and others that seem artificially calculated.

Mr. Pendleton appears slightly at sea as the graceless dentist who is forced to share Anne's room (though the scene in which she introduces him to their sleeping quarters is charming). Mr. Yulin, as the cynical, self-serving Mr. Van Daan, and Ms. Hayden, as Anne's fragile mother, are better in conveying, in very different ways, the aura of the older, more genteel world that shaped their characters.

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11/29/07 9:49 AM

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