By Mary Ann Bourbeau
HOLMDEL – Although it can sometimes seem like bad news and negativity are all around us, perhaps we need to be reminded of the words of Anne Frank. The teenager, who along with her family was in hiding from the Nazis and after being caught, died in a concentration camp, famously wrote in her diary, “I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
A full production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” will be presented at the Holmdel Theatre from April 15-30, produced by Laurie Devino and directed by Amy E. Jones.
“In sort of a broad way, it’s a story about positivity in the face of adversity, not succumbing to fatalism or pessimism,” said Jones. “Anne was a great example of someone who continued to find the good in people.”
Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl who, from 1942 to 1944, was forced to remain in hiding due to the Nazi persecution of the Jews in Europe. While in hiding with her family and a handful of other people in a set of rooms above a warehouse in Amsterdam, Anne recorded her thoughts, feelings and emotions, and documented their daily events in a diary that her father had given to her as a birthday present.
In this powerful new adaptation by Wendy Kesselman, the story captures the claustrophobic realities of their daily existence – their fears, hopes, laughter and grief. But it also contains passages that had previously been redacted by Anne’s father, Otto Frank, upon the first release of her diary entries.
“It gives more insight into Anne’s private moments, things he felt at first might have put her in a bad light,” said Jones. “She was 13 and an adolescent when she went into hiding. Some of her thoughts were more personal. It also goes into the strained relationship Anne had with her mother. It really fleshes her out and lets us see her as a whole person. Even though the story didn’t end well, it has quite a bit of humor. It’s really touching and sweet.”
Jones is a New York-based director and choreographer who has helmed the tour of “Sex n’ the City: A (Super Unauthorized) Musical Parody;” “Broadway Backwards” at Broadway’s Hirschfeld Theatre and Palace Theatre; and “The Pink Unicor”n at Holmdel Theatre, where she is happy to make a return.
“It’s such a wonderful space, and I’m excited that Holmdel Theatre Company is back to full productions,” she said.
The cast includes several drama students from nearby Holmdel High School including Katie Bauer, who portrays Anne, and Gabriela Postigo, who plays her sister, Margot.
“They’re really just so talented and hard working,” said Jones. “When Katie auditioned, she had that quality of being outgoing and excited. Now knowing her personally, I realize what a good actor she is, because she is really very quiet. She and Gabriela look like they could be sisters. They’re very natural together.”
The cast includes Charles Deitz as Otto Frank; Stephanie Long as Edith Frank; Felicia Russell as Miep Gies; Bryan Reimertz as Peter Van Daan: Jesse Luciani and Lori Cortese-Buckheit as Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan; Bryan Ponemon as Mr. Dussel; Mike Vails as Mr. Kraler; Steve Lukawski and Justin Piehler as Nazi officers and Cooper Bilsland as the Dutch collaborator.
“We somehow found these pairings, like the Van Daans and the Franks, who bring a real depth to their relationships,” said Jones. “We were so lucky to find these thoughtful actors who really want to delve into this story and bring it to reality.”
“Our lives are fashioned by our choices. First, we make our choices. Then our choices make us.” – Anne Frank
Holmdel Theatre Company is a nonprofit, semi-professional theater dedicated to presenting fresh interpretations of classic plays as well as rarely presented modern dramas and comedies. The plays are presented in the Duncan Smith Theatre, a renovated 125-year-old barn located at 36 Crawfords Corner Road in Holmdel. Tickets for “The Diary of Anne Frank” are $20-25 and can be purchased at holmdeltheatrecompany.org.
The article originally appeared in the April 13 – 19, 2023 print edition of The Two River Times.