An Anonymous Review

The Diary of Anne Frank
an anonymous review from a theater patron
directed by Judith Dresch
at The Manhattan Playhouse, East Palo Alto, CA
through December 5, 1992

I attended the opening on Friday, 11/13.

Technically, the production was a shambles. The lighting was poor, the flats were flimsy and noise from "backstage" was clumsily audible. The scene changes took forever, leaving a perplexed audience sitting in the dark, hearing nothing but the sound of stagehands moving props. Several times the lights prematurely came up to reveal stagehands still onstage, awkwardly clunking about, then hysterically fleeing the stage as the lights shone on them.

The acting was horrendous. Various castmembers were blatantly struggling to remember their lines. Their speech lacked rhythm, tempo and volume. Movement was clumsy; I didn't know whether to blame the blocking or the actors for their inept actions, which for the most part lacked motivation and energy. There was no authentic interaction between actors; it was as if everyone were acting in separate plays, indulging in a series of monologues. It wasn't clear to me at all what anyone was feeling at each moment. The lines in the script were easily interpreted to mean something, however the action often went against the grain and blemished the text. There was no subtext provided by the actors; they merely followed directions and robotic ally indicated what they were supposed to be feeling. To say that the actors lacked presence in this production is an understatement.

Clearly, there were some rough parts that could be ironed out with more rehearsal. But some of the faults were inexcusable. When I'm sitting in a full house and I notice that most everyone is yawning and anxiously shifting in their seats, I can't help but suspect that I'm not the only one who's bored. I hold Manhattan Playhouse liable for this theatrical dud because they've managed to reduce this wonderful play about a heroic girl and about the hardships and beauty of community during (in spite of) war, into an emotionally barren wax museum. Rather than feeling enriched following the show, all I noticed was that I had $10 less in my wallet.

The only one who truly showed any life was Natalie Skelton (Anne Frank). She was fabulous. But she was so alone onstage. No one else showed any urgency or grief. She alone showed excitement, fear, caring and charm in her winsome portrayal of a girl rapidly growing into a woman ahead of her time. The best moments in the play are when she is alone, reciting her memoirs as she scribbles them into her diary.

Because I've read and seen the play several times, and I know how it turns out in the end, there is a poignancy that radiates throughout the story, no matter how badly it is presented. Natalie added some of her own gusto as well. If there's any reason for seeing this particular production, it's to see her. Natalie knows how to be interesting; she has presence and she lights up the stage. Now, if only she could be joined by a cast of real actors ....

An Anonymous Theater Patron