At one point in "The Diary of Anne Frank," a character tells Anne and her family that they have no real notion of what is happening outside their hiding place: The Nazi pogroms are in full goose-step throughout Europe, and even Dutch Jews are being led to the concentration camps.
There's a pause while they reflect on this, a confirmation of their fears. But soon enough it's back to the practical matters at hand: Where will this new arrival sleep? Will he eat too much food? How will he get along with everybody? How long does he have to stay? Survival outside is harrowing, but it can be an ordeal inside as well.
There are several times when Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett's play, now in repertory at Rancho Santiago College's Professional Actors Conservatory, seems to only take an indirect interest in the Nazi nightmare that has forced the Franks and their friends, the Van Daans, into a cramped Amsterdam attic.
What the writers found most compelling in 13-year-old Anne's diary were the ways that 3 years of self-imprisonment affected those involved, how the apparently normal, good people revealed their worst under the strain, and how the truly noble remained noble.
Unfortunately, along with food and creature comforts, patience becomes scarce--for the audience as well as the characters. There are times when the play is trivial: Flare-ups over sleeping and smoking habits, Anne's gabbiness and Mrs. Van Daan's flirtations with Mr. Frank veer things into the cramped confines of the mundane.
Sure, a young girl's mind would gravitate often toward the ordinary, but the emphasis here--even if it's meant to contrast with the terrible reality on the outside, or to underscore how few people realized the extent of the German threat--is drastic. Jerry McGonigle's direction makes matters worse: He tends to dwell on the daily doings and, in fact, amplifies them.
McGonigle does move to a higher level in a few poignant passages that feature Susan Hamilton as Anne. When Anne is unable to burn the yellow Star of David patch that the Germans have forced her to wear, we feel her religious commitment and steadfast personality. When she giddily presents homemade Hanukkah presents to everyone, we see her joy, her wit and her love.
But Hamilton, who looks at least 20, is hampered by having to play such a young girl. She tries to compensate with hyperactive bounding about, coy looks and an adolescent lilt to her voice, but most of the time it is all too arch. Not surprisingly, she approaches the later scenes, when she begins to have womanly feelings for 16-year-old Peter Van Daan, with more ease.
The rest of the cast varies in ability. Robert Allan Gray is a leaderly but gentle Mr. Frank, and Chuck O'Connor delivers as the not-so-gracious new arrival, Mr. Dussel. Brian Hickman is best of all as the shy, achingly introspective Peter. A sense of low-key struggle is generated by David C. Palmer's somber lighting, which complements Scott Nielsen's correctly confining set.
'THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK'
A Rancho Santiago College Professional Actors Conservatory production of the Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett drama. Directed by Jerry McGonigle. With Robert Allan Gray, Jana Webb, Suzanne Doherty, Dan Robert Wentzel, Brian Hickman, Noelle Harris, Lisa Foster, Susan Hamilton, Mat Stricker and Chuck O'Connor. Set by Scott Nielsen. Lighting by David C. Palmer. Costumes by Karen J. Weller. Plays Feb. 4, 8 and 10 at 8 p.m. at Room P-105 on the Rancho Santiago College campus, 17th Street and Bristol Avenue, Santa Ana. Tickets: $4 to $5. (714) 667-3163 and 667-3104.