As if it weren't depressing enough ...
As I hope you know, the Frank family went into hiding in 1942, in Amsterdam. The youngest daughter, Anne, kept a diary right up until the capture and extermination of all the annex inhabitants, except for her father, Otto.
When Otto Frank released the diary for publication, he, perhaps unsurprisingly, sanitized it -- removing Anne's mention of her dislike for her mother and her own budding sexuality. A 1955 play further watered down the story, which was additionally whitewashed for the 1959 film.
An unexpurgated version of the diary was published in 1995. Two years later, Wendy Kesselman incorporated that new material into the old play.
So even though you've seen The Diary of Anne Frank before, you won't be prepared for this "new" version presented by Playhouse, Jr. The original play stressed optimism and universality; this version puts the Franks smack in the middle of the Second World War and the throbbing anti-Semitism just outside their door. The Jewishness of the characters is accentuated here -- something the assimilationist-era script avoided. And, of course, we watch a group of eight very human beings -- living under extraordinary pressure -- slowly begin to lose their shared humanity.
So congratulations, Ms. Kesselman! Bravo to everyone who've made it more authentic! Now excuse me while I go jump out a window. Since we all know exactly how it ends, we are, in a sense, watching eight people slowly making their way to the gallows. And it's a relentless, heart-shattering march.
Hats off to director Shirley Tannenbaum, who doesn't flinch leading this student company onto such horrific ground. There's an honesty here among the ensemble, and the bravery of a group of actors unafraid to show both the good and the petty aspects of characters who long ago passed into deification. I'm especially happy to recommend the strong work of Courtney Neville as Anne, who gives a moving performance of a young girl turning into a young woman.
The fact that the evening is so grim may be just the reason that it's so essential.
The Diary of Anne Frank continues through June 12. Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. 412-621-4445 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com