By Sam Leitch, copy editor
By Maddy Meekins, A&E editor
First and foremost, when watching Maria Carrillo High School performance of The Diary of Anne Frank, it’s hard to believe they crafted such a heart-warming and well-done performance amidst outages and evacuations.
The play brings life to Anne Frank’s diary entries as she and other Jews hide from the Nazi party. From the very beginning, the performance demands attention through a beautiful set design, heartfelt performances and more laughs than expected from a play about the Holocaust.
When tempers finally flare, they truly flare; it’s remarkable the actors could contain such forceful and sporadic fits of energy within the confines of the set. For example, as sophomore Olivia Keach’s Anne fights for the attention of sophomore Finn Wright’s Peter van Daan by stealing his shoe, they dart around tables and over fallen chairs with such incomprehensible speed, the audience has no choice but to get swept along for the ride.
In a moment of strained action, Mrs. Frank, played by senior Nicolette Watt, chases Mr. van Daan, played by junior Evan Walsh, after discovering he ate extra food under the guise of night. She casts aside chairs and barrels through the set with one goal in mind, each moment between her and the thief drowned out by her screams until Mr. Frank, played by junior Thomas Whitaker, finally restrains her. And still, another layer of tension permeates each and every moment under duress, considering even a few loud footsteps could get the group of Jews as well as their defenders killed.
Slinking away from danger and lashing out at those below him, Walsh not only accurately portrays Mr. van Daan’s cowardice, but his desperation, conveying how years of life within close quarters drives people to their lowest points. When senior Peyton Whiteside’s Mrs. van Daan reflects on their shared romance and retreats into his arms, crying out in anguish, her heartbreak reverberates throughout the crowd.
Yet, the increasing severity of their situation eases momentarily through an array of jokes. Whiteside’s Mrs. van Daan kept the audience entertained with over-the-top performances, whether that meant relentlessly pining for Mr. Frank’s attention or screaming in protest and flailing her arms after receiving dental work from Mr. Dussel. Speaking of, freshman Steven Donlon’s portrayal of the dentist in question was hilarious in its own right–soliciting torrents of laughter through practical jokes or his genuine, believable fear of the van Daans’ cat.
Every member of the cast fit their roles perfectly. Whitaker portrays Mr. Frank’s fatherly love through his calm, reassuring delivery of lines, while Jaycee Nichol playing Anne’s sister Margot, Watt and Whiteside convey fear in their wide eyes, tears and shaking hands. Their palpable anxiety makes it impossible not to become emotionally invested. Finally, senior Sophie Carlton and sophomore Christopher Pimentel portray Miep Gies and Kraler perfectly as they attempt to hide everyone, either joyfully partaking in celebration with the families or delivering bad news with utter solemnity. My only critique is that I wish they were featured for more of the runtime.
As this all unfolds, Keach’s breakout performance as Anne Frank continuously reminds the audience that she is simply a girl traversing through an already confusing point in her life. Keach delivers her lines with either childlike wonder or heartbreaking sincerity. Her diary entries, which resound through the theater speakers as separate monologues, focus on subjects from her competitive relationship with Margot to her new and confusing romantic urges. But, after the Nazi Party’s secret police finds their encampment, Anne’s life ends in the midst of romance and reconciliation. Her plans never come to fruition, and it is utterly heartbreaking.
The hard, behind the scenes work that stagecraft does to put on a show like this often goes unrecognized, but the building of the set itself was a great feat. Carly Chance, a senior in stagecraft, talked about the ambition of the project stating, “Denise Elia-Yen wanted to push our class to its full potential and with our current class size this design was in our capability.”
The already ambitious set was made even more difficult as Chance mentioned that “the power shut-offs took a large portion of building time,” giving them only “about a week to build the entire set before the show opened.” Stage manager, senior Joe Eastman, also was concerned about the loss of the week, but said “it came together very well” in the end and we couldn’t agree more.
When Keach delivers her first monologue, the lights fade from black to blue, and the first thing you notice is the set: a jumbled complex of stairs, which Chance believed was the most complex part to build, steps, and bed frames that the characters call home while hiding from the Gestapo.
What’s more intriguing is that each room is undivided. Anne’s room is the set of beds that lay beside center stage, and the attic is a platform which towers over the set. The close quarters help convey a sense of claustrophobia, which only intensifies as the collection of Jews–the Frank family, the van Daan family and a dentist–grows impatient and hungry.
The set was essential to the interpretation of the show, effectively conveying the struggles that the Franks truly faced, and it is because of students such as Chance and Eastman that said they spent approximately 20 hours a week working on the set, as well as Technical Director Nick Rarick who according to Chance “helped to wrangle the stagecraft army into getting the set done.”
Both the drama and stagecraft students should be proud of the emotional rollercoaster they were able to provide their audience, and their labor of love proved to be beyond worth it for attendees.