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Still Heartbreaking

'Diary of Anne Frank' uses excerpts that the real Otto Frank omitted from the first published version.


Kristina Bartlett glows with unrestrained energy in the first scene of "The Diary ofAnne Frank" at the West Coast Ensemble. Director Richard Israel almost pushes the point too far--Bartlett's vivaciousness deeply contrasts with the more somber mood of the other actors. But the effect is still heartbreaking. We know this ill-fated teenager will be granted her wish for fame in the most awful manner.

Israel uses Wendy Kesselman's adaptation of the original 1955 play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. Unlike the original, this version doesn't frame the story with Otto Frank (Clive Pearson) returning to his wartime hiding place where he reads the diaries that Miep Gies (Erika Gray) saved for him.

Here, the Franks arrive in their hiding place, drenched from the rain. Everyone is quiet and tense except Anne, who is bursting with enthusiasm for this "adventure" and the blending of two families--the Franks and the Van Daans.

Kesselman's script, which opened on Broadway in 1997, uses excerpts that the real Otto omitted from the first published diary (there are now three versions of the diary). Anne reads some of this new material from the diary in voice-overs, but this is distracting, particularly because she also reads some of the soliloquies from the stage.


Goodrich and Hackett targeted a 1950s audience. Anne was precociously good and asexual. The character's Jewishness was downplayed.

In this version, we see yellow stars sewn to their clothes. They happily rip them off, making their confinement a strange liberation. They talk of the conditions for Jews under Hitler. Kesselman fleshes out Anne's character, yet leaves the poor Van Daans as a counterpoint to the morally better Franks. Mr. Van Daan (Larry Lederman) is weakly selfish, stealing food--something that isn't recorded in the diary.

This script embraces the darkness of their fates. Otto returns in the last scene, and sadly lists the fate of each person.

Pearson is a stolid Otto, the solid foundation of this secret annex family. Angela DeCicco brings a sympathetic flair to Mrs. Van Daan's vanities, balancing the liveliness of Bartlett's Anne against the quiet reserve of the other characters.

As the finicky bachelor dentist, John O'Brien is sweetly funny in Mr. Dussel's awkward attempts to fit in.

Israel doesn't plumb the more petty, negative aspects of life at the secret annex, re-created by George K. Cybulski as a main center room with cramped side spaces for the other living spaces.

But too much snapping and snarling would have undermined the spirit of the original play. As Anne wrote in one of her last entries: "I still believe in spite of everything that people are truly good at heart."

* "The Diary of Anne Frank," West Coast Ensemble, 522 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends March 25. $20. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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