Wednesday, April 25, 2007
The Diary Of Anne Frank (The SOB Review) - Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre, Chicago, IL
***1/2 (out of ****)
While the current Steppenwolf revival of The Diary Of Anne Frank begins rather melodramatically and with a surprising minimum of urgency, director Tina Landau ultimately succeeds in building this play into an engrossing, near pitch-perfect production.
Of course, the play is based on the eponymous journal kept by the German-born Jewish girl whose family stole her and her sister away in hidden rooms adjacent to the Amsterdam workplace of her father, just as Jews in Nazi-occupied Holland were being rounded up and sent to death camps during the Holocaust.
The source material may be already be 63 years old, but Landau brings a haunting brilliance to the time-honored dramatization by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, thanks in part to its current adaptation by Wendy Kesselman. Landau also takes chances by enabling the story to move beyond the play's previous conclusion in such a striking fashion that there were audible gasps from the audience. Landau triumphs in proving why this timeless classic deserves to be retold yet again.
This extraordinary production is also blessed by an exceptional ensemble, each of whom turns in a profoundly moving performance. Chief among them are the absolutely astounding Claire Elizabeth Saxe in the title role and a spectacularly measured performance by Yasen Peyankov as her father.
The amazingly youthful-looking Saxe begins with all the spunkiness one would expect from a precocious twelve year old, but gracefully transitions to the height of pubescence apropos of a teen on the brink of realizing a heartfelt crush. Right before your eyes, her maturation, physically and emotionally, is palpable. You won't believe you're watching a current high school senior -- she's that good.
Peyankov offers perhaps the most stunning achievement of all with the steady reassurance and hope he offers as Otto Frank, not only for his family and fellow hideaways, but by extension for his fellow Jews and humanity. By scaling his performance so astonishingly, Peyankov becomes the heart of this production.
Fortunately, the harrowing account remains the biggest star of this retelling, but it is aided tremendously by an eerie lighting design (Scott Zielinski) and downright alarming sound design (Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen).
This is a production that deserves to be seen, not only by those who don't understand the extent of the Nazis' savageries, but also for anyone who yearns for a deeper appreciation for the galvanic capabilities of the young Anne Frank's words that remain as vital today as ever.
This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).
Click here for tickets.