Theater Review: "The Diary of Anne Frank" at The Next Stage

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Through May 1 at the Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush), S.F. $18-$28; 651-4251 or www.custommade.org.
The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush), S.F.

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There is probably a special place in hell for obscure, junior-grade theater critics who would use what few column inches they have to pick on a tiny, independent, church-adjacent production of The Diary of Anne Frank. Well, say a prayer for me. But as Wendy Kesselman's "newly adapted" version of the 1955 play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett makes clear, good intentions aren't always enough. Custom Made's production feels a little creaky, and therefore does at least convey the sense of hiding for 25 months in an attic in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. The hard part is to haul these characters out from under the symbols they've become while keeping them from seeming like just another group of actors awaiting their cues. Casting an African-American actor, Fred Pitts, as Anne's father, Otto, accords well with the play's idea of dignity rebuking bigotry, but director Leah S. Abrams' other choices seem regrettably less bold. Julia Belanoff's performance as Anne is calibrated to amplify the heroine's precocity and optimism, perhaps because the dramatization of destroyed potential is a lot to ask of any teenager, or audience.

 
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