What would this play be like if you didn't know the story?
The seems to be the only operative question following the stunning opening of "The Diary of Anne Frank," which opened Friday at the Milwaukee Rep's Quadracci Powerhouse.
The story of the young girl who kept a diary during her years in hiding from the Nazis is widely known. The play, the movie and the book have touched millions and millions of people.
What would you think of the play if you didn't know the story? What if you didn't know that in the end, after weeks and months and years of hiding and taking every precaution they could think of and rejoicing at the news of the invasion at Normandy – what if you didn't know that the Nazis discovered them and that Anne Frank died in a prison camp?
That may well be a question to which there is no answer, because it is impossible to throw away our store of knowledge about one of the saddest episodes in the history of man.
And make no mistake. While the story of Anne Frank is told onstage with a sparkling attention to detail, and while the story is truly one about a girl and her family, it is also the sweeping story of history.
This is a moving story, as evidenced by the dabbing of eyes and the drying of tears as the audience filed out, quietly. The contrast between the effervescence of Anne and the idea of her being dead is brutally sharp.
We all lovingly go along for the ride with this bright, precocious young girl and then find that we are thrown off that horse when the dread of the doorbell ringing downstairs lets us, and them, know that the hiding place has now become a trap from which there is no escape.
There is no longer any suspense in the play about Anne Frank. There is, however, an abundance of delight as we watch this girl grow and those around her play her foils.
It should probably not be said too loudly, but there are a lot of laughs in this production. And the cast plays it perfectly. The marriage of funny and dreadful is a difficult task, but one that this company is fully able to discharge.
Lauren Hirte, a tiny little thing from Chicago, is overwhelming as Anne. If it were a different time and place, Anne would be one of those Disney girls who go onto big careers as pop music stars. She plays Anne as more than just a little bit aware of the changes in her body and her attitude toward boys and we love this Anne with all our heart.
The play is also another reminder how incredibly lucky we are to have so many wonderful actors living in our midst.
The impeccable Laura Gordon plays Anne's mother with the kind of old Jewish lady dignity that is so common of that generation. She also finds some steel in her backbone, just when she needs it.
Jonathan Gillard Daly, James Pickering, Lee Ernst and Deborah Staples continue to prove that they are among the most versatile and spectacular actors this city has ever seen.
Pickering walks an especially fine line as the man who hides the family. He is an employee of, and subservient to, Otto Frank, Anne’s father, and he is in charge of the entire hiding arrangement. It’s a delicate mix, and Pickering gives us a masterful demonstration.
Making his Rep debut is another Chicagoan, Larry Neumann, Jr., who plays a dentist who hides out in the space. He is a wonderful comedian and it would be great if we could lure him back to Milwaukee for further work.
A final word must also go to the sound designer, M. L. Dogg. At the play's end, the Nazis discover the hiding place and arrive in cars, stomp through the door, move and destroy the bookcase that covers the door to the hiding place.
The entire process is done with sound that is at first full of worry and then becomes incredibly frightening. The final crash made the entire audience almost jump outof their seats. It was a great achievement.
"The Diary of Anne Frank" runs through Dec. 2. Ticket information can be obtained at the website.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
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Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.