Is there anyone in America who does not know the story told in The Diary of Anne Frank? Two Jewish families—plus one irascible dentist—hide from Nazis during World War II in a secret annex behind Otto Frank's company in Amsterdam. Fed and protected by their friends, they survive close confinement, clashing temperaments and growling hunger for more than two years—almost to the day of liberation—only to be caught and sent to the death camps in the last months of the war.
Only Otto—and Anne's diary—survived. Abandoned when she was taken, it was recovered after the war and given to Otto, who published an edited version. A play and a movie were made in the 1950s. A later version of the play contains more of Anne's growth into a sexual being.
A blend of both versions is directed here by Abdelfattah Abusrour, a Palestinian theatre artist who had no previous experience with the play, though he had read the diary. Having grown up in a refugee camp, he brings considerable insight to the material. His approach is straightforward and honest—fresh enough to rivet one's attention, if not particularly innovative.
Burning Coal casts young actors when it can, and this production shows how effective they can be in portraying people their own ages.
The demanding role of Anne is filled by 10th-grader Samantha Rahn, who has already done impressive work at Burning Coal and elsewhere in the region. She portrays Anne as a hyper-intense adolescent, mercurial and difficult but nearly bursting out of her skin with vitality and adventurousness.
Tenth-grader Anna Grey Voelker makes Anne's quieter sister Margot into a real person, not just a foil. And Josh Martin, another high-schooler, grows before our eyes as shy Peter van Daan, first repulsed and then captivated by Anne's bold ways.
The "grown-ups," as Anne calls them, are realized by more seasoned actors. Jenn Suchanec, as the feisty yet frightened Mrs. van Daan, and John Allore, as the brave and loving Otto Frank, are particularly moving.
The staging is very effective: After having your papers checked by a couple of actors portraying Nazi officers, you ascend to a low room on the balcony and throng around the set—the compact world of the tiny annex—where Matthew Adelson's very good lighting design and Aharon Segal's wonderful ambient sounds intensify the experience.