The other night at the end of a performance of The Diary of Anne Frank at WaterTower Theatre, the lights went down on the final scene then came up with the cast assembled for bows. Instead of applause, the actors were met with complete silence. The lights went down again. The actors left the stage and the audience quietly filed out of the building.
"That's exactly the reaction we are hoping for," wrote one of the actors on her Facebook wall later that night.
And it's an appropriate way to honor the deep emotions and great dignity this cast, directed by WaterTower's artistic director Terry Martin, gives to this drama.
It is, of course, the story of the little girl, her family and four other Jews who hid from the Nazis in an Amsterdam attic for two years during World War II. Anne was barely 14 when she went into hiding. As played by the lovely young actress Molly Franco, we see her in the play as a typical teen, bouncing off the furniture, bickering with her mother (played by Emily Scott Banks) and pouring out her feelings onto the pages of her diary. During the time in what she called "the secret annex" (she'd hoped to use that later as the title of a novel), Anne matured. Her journal reveals thoughts and ideas way beyond her years. She never gave up hope that the war would end and they would all get back to normal life.
This 1997 adaptation of the 1955 play includes more of Anne's words, taken directly from her diary, which was found by her father and published after the war. She talks about her Jewish identity and her pride in it. It is Anne who makes the families celebrate Hanukkah in one scene in the play, even though they're nearly starving on a diet of beans and potatoes.
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The sweetest moments in the WaterTower production are between Molly Franco's Anne and Travis Tope's Peter Van Daan. These characters fall into deep puppy love and have "dates" in the little space under the eaves. Their conversations speak of hopes and dreams, what they want life to be after the war is over.
That sudden appearance of Nazi soldiers at the end of the play is what shocks the audience, even though we know it's coming. Only Otto Frank, Anne's father (played with quiet resolve by Stan Graner), survived the concentration camps. Anne and her sister died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen, only a few months before the Allies liberated the camps in Poland.
The Diary of Anne Frank continues through January 29 at WaterTower Theatre, Addison. Call 972-450-6232.