That name has stirred the hearts and minds of post World War II people all over the world. This German Jewish teenager's story of hiding from the Nazis for two years has inspired books, movies, plays, museums, statues and music.
The Barn Theatre in Willmar has taken on the task of telling her story. "The Diary of Anne Frank," by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman, is being staged under the artistic direction of Jerry Morrison and assistant director Matthew Schiller to plunge their audience into Anne's world..
The production begins with a modern day brother and sister (played by Adam and Maddie Schiller) playing an innocent game of hide-and-seek. These two set up the next scene for the dramatic paradox of Anne's world of "hiding."
The play continues with Otto, played by Dean Madsen, bringing his wife, Edith, (Mary Haugen) and their two daughters, Margot (Clair Taylor-Schiller) and Anne (Claudia Finsaas) into a secret annex to escape the Nazi death camps.
Soon, sponsors, Mr. Kraler (Allen Clark) and Miep Gies (Randi Larson), bring another family to share the secret place. The Van Daan family (Matthew C. Schiller, Cherry Olsen and Patrick Gilmore) bring their own set of dysfunction and energy to the crew as Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan constantly argue and, son Peter, holes up in his room. Lastly, Mr. Düssel, (Timothy Ostby) a shell-shocked community dentist, is squeezed into the jumble to create the obscured eight.
Morrison and technical director Aane Twedt's tiny set uses crude furniture, ragged window coverings and Anne's words to decorate the floor of the hovel-like scenery. Lighting designer Matt Hegdahl's repeated use of solitary white light also suggests limited space amidst chaos. Suspended above the set out of the physical and symbolic reach of the characters are period objects such as a bicycle, car parts, skates and a movie reel (Brent Roelofs and Paulette Korsmo, props). Geneece Goertzen, costume designer, dresses the actors in drab, war-torn 1940's clothing. All eight of the main characters are on the stage or seen standing behind it through the windows for the entire show. The idea of claustrophobia and want are artfully pressed in on the audience. (stage manager, Becky Sorenson).
Adding to a desolate set are the searing marching, crashing and siren sounds strewn throughout the production. Bob Thompson's sound engineering cause the audience to enter into the characters' fears easily (light board operators are Jan Buzzeo, Maddie Schiller and Adam Schiller).
Within the dismal surroundings, however, there are joyful moments as well. Otto gives Anne a diary in the first scene, which becomes the focal point through which the audience can understand Anne's inner world as well as the relationships around her. Each character, in turn, reads from the diary at pivotal places in the play.
Clever casting put the right characters/storytellers in the production. For example, Finsaas portrays Anne as an optimistic, energetic and conflicted young girl who adores her father, Otto. Her energy alone could fill the entire annex, which causes problems among the residents. Finsaas' skill at playing a child/woman with sometimes wildly morphing moods is exquisite (choreographer is Claire Schiller).
Also, Haugen embodies Edith Frank who worries over her family's safety, desires to have her family be welcoming and refined toward the other residents, and has difficulty connecting with her youngest daughter. Haugen's constant hunched back and wringing hands, along with her superb interpretation of anxious lines quite possibly identifies her with every mother in the audience.
Finally, Gilmore, in his first role ever, is effective as Peter. His character starts out as an emotionally reserved boy and ends up blossoming into a hopeful young man beginning to fall in love. Gilmore and Finsaas spark as a duo. Both their arguments and their close scenes are played with skillful passion.
Each actor's biography in the program ends with the question, "If someone were to read your diary 100 years from now, what would you want them to learn about you?"
The Barn Theatre production of "The Diary of Anne Frank" takes us back in history to a dark era of unspeakable horror, but it does so gracefully and honestly - from a young girl's perspective. The excellence of this show allows the audience to suffer and hope against all hopes. And it just might make them leave asking the same question.
This review was submitted by Margaret Lanning, a magazine columnist, speech and language clinician, and dog sitter who loves the theater along with her family of five in Willmar.