This year is the 75th anniversary of Anne Frank’s diary, about living in a secret hiding place during World War II, hoping to elude the Nazis. The stage version of the diary won many awards when it premiered on Broadway in 1955. The Sacramento Theatre Company’s handsome revival of the play is timely.
The setting is Amsterdam, occupied by German forces during World War II. The Nazis are rounding up the remaining Jews, so Anne Frank, her family and several others who didn’t get out in time have gone into hiding, living in a small suite of rooms, above a busy business office. During the day, they must be as quiet as possible, not flushing the toilet because the sound of running water might reveal their presence. Anne, a bright inquisitive girl of 13, occupies herself by silently writing long entries in a book that was a present from her father.
Anne: A diary! I’ve never had a diary, I’ve always longed for one. A pencil. I’m going downstairs to the office to get a pencil!
Father: (yelling) Anne! No!
Anne: But there’s nobody in the building now.
Father: It doesn’t matter. I never want you to go beyond that door!
Anne: Never? Not even at nighttime, when everyone is gone? Or on Sundays, can’t I go down to listen to the radio?
Father: No. I’m sorry, it isn’t safe. No, you must never go beyond that door.
Then one day, after the office has closed, someone tries to break into the office downstairs, triggering panic among the people in hiding up above.
Do you hear anything?
I think they’ve gone.
It’s the Green Police, they’ve found us!
If it was the Green Police, they’d be up here, they would not have left.
I know it’s the Green Police, they just went to go get help, that’s all. They’ll be back.
Or the Gestapo, looking for papers.
Or a thief, looking for money.
Oh, we’ve got to do something!
But in reality, there is almost nothing they can do. Their only course is to remain silent, and stay out of sight. Their sense of powerlessness becomes oppressive, especially when they start running out of food. When one of them is caught sneaking into their tiny kitchen at night, the accusations fly.
What is it?
The bread. He was stealing the bread. It was you! And all the time we thought it was the rats. Mr. van Damme, how could you?
We’re ALL of us hungry!
It’s like living in a pressure cooker, constantly fearing discovery. And this production effectively ratchets up the tension, though there are also momentary interludes of levity and love. Just about everyone in the audience knows, from the start, how this story is going to end. But the actors make the journey interesting, and convey a sense of living in fear, confined in cramped quarters, and getting on each other’s nerves.
The story onstage involves Europeans in the 1940s, a long time ago. But it’s been barely two months since white supremacists and neo-Nazis paraded openly through Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting racist slogans – a sight that disturbed quite a few Americans. All of which makes this handsome revival of “The Diary of Anne Frank” an absorbing, thought-provoking, and all-too-timely theater experience.
The Sacramento Theater Company production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” continues through October 29.