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Review: 'Anne Frank' packs emotional punch with hint of humor

| Friday, Oct. 2, 2015, 8:57 p.m.
The cast from the Pittsburgh Public Theater’s “The Diary of Anne Frank”
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
The cast from the Pittsburgh Public Theater’s “The Diary of Anne Frank”

Let's begin by stating the obvious: “The Diary of Anne Frank” is not a play you look forward to seeing.

The fame of the book, the drama, the movie and the Anne Frank House Museum in Amsterdam has made it almost impossible not to know the outcome before you go.

Over the two-and-a-half hours, plus intermission, of Pittsburgh Public Theater's production, you become a silent and powerless observer. During 25 months between 1942 and '45, the Frank and Van Daan families and Mr. Dussel — all Jews — live together in a cramped Amsterdam attic space while supplied with limited news and rations by two of Otto Frank's friends.

Unable to leave Amsterdam, their only hope to avoid transportation to the Nazi concentration camps is to stay hidden until the German invaders are conquered.

Even if you enter the theater completely uninformed, the opening scene reveals the fates of everyone involved with abundant clarity.

For those watching events unfold against that backdrop, the petty squabbles and mini dramas of domestic life that erupt during their confinement are a constant reminder of how inconsequential those moments are in their lives and in ours.

Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett's play focuses not on where the characters ended up, but the lives they lived and the journey they took together.

Michael Schweikardt's multilevel set offers a fairly accurate re-creation of the tightly confined attic space they inhabited, right down to the covered windows that prevented light leaks that might give them away.

Playing young Anne Frank is no easy task. But 26-year-old Remy Zaken handles Anne's transition from outspoken, self-involved child to a more sensitive, thoughtful but still-lively 15-year-old with seamless plausibility.

Christine Laitta brings reality to Mrs. Frank, Anne's overwrought, anxious mother.

Randy Kovitz, as Otto Frank, serves as the group's calm, central stabilizing force who intermediates the typical mother-daughter rancor and does his best to be the voice of reason for every moment of peril, panic or discord.

Helena Ruoti tackles the judgmental, self-impressed Mrs. Van Daan with aplomb, sanding down her rough edges with touches of humor. As her husband, David Wohl increases the tension with his personal imperfections. David Edward Jackson plays their teenage son Peter, whose solitary ways make a nice foil for Anne's pranks.

As Anne's older, studious, more mature sister Margot, Erica Cuenca is a strong but often silent presence, watching and listening before speaking.

Daniel Krell is delightfully cranky, awkward and distant as the reclusive man forced to share a room with the boisterous Anne.

Ken Bolden and Kelsey Carthew play the two courageous outsiders, Mr. Kraler and Miep, who arrive periodically with news and supplies.

Pamela Berlin's precise and focused direction and a uniformly skillful cast turn this dark and difficult production into a gripping, sometimes-funny and emotionally powerful evening of true drama.

“The Diary of Anne Frank,” produced by Pittsburgh Public Theater, continues through Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. most Wednesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. most Saturdays and Oct. 22, and 2 and 7 p.m. most Sundays at the O'Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Downtown. Admission: $30-$65. Details: 412-316-1600 or ppt.org

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808, acarter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ATCarter_Trib.

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