Tag Archives: Marilyn Carter

The Young Jewish Girl Who Became a Post-War Icon

Review: The Diary of Anne Frank @ Central Piedmont

By Perry Tannenbaum

The Diary of Anne Frank 

You can sneer and call her the poster child of the Holocaust, or you can marvel at how she continues to be a lightning rod. But 77 years after the last words of her secret diary were written, followed by her death at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp six months later, nobody can say that Anne Frank has been forgotten – or that she will be in the foreseeable future.

A recent segment on 60 Minutes was devoted to solving the mystery of who betrayed her and her family to the Gestapo in early August 1944 after two years of hiding in the famed “Secret Annex” in Amsterdam. Managing to make even more of an ass of himself than we thought possible, anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. somehow turned the 13-year-old Dutch immigrant into a talking point, comparing rules enforcing COVID vaccinations to the tyranny of Hitler’s Germany.

“You could cross the Alps to go to Switzerland,” he said of those threatened by the Nazis. “You could hide in an attic, as Anne Frank did.”

Before people had to worry about COVID and those pesky vaccines, the Anne Frank House, where the “Secret Annex” is preserved, attracted well over a million visitors every year.

So with Holocaust survivors thinning out, living memories of the Third Reich growing dim, and misinformation metastasizing, is the time ripe for dusting off and re-examining The Diary of Anne Frank? It has been done before. First published in 1950 and translated into English in 1952, The Diary of a Young Girl premiered on Broadway with its more familiar title in a Pulitzer Prize-winning adaptation by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett in 1955. The rebranding stuck after the film, directed on by George Stevens, won the Oscar and Golden Globes for Best Picture in 1960.

All of those originals have been edited, retranslated, or updated – many times, in the case of new graphic novels, children’s book abridgements, TV versions, and movie takes.

But Anne’s text, assembled by Otto Frank from multiple handwritten manuscripts, has only been re-edited a couple of times, once in a critical edition by the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation in 1989 (revised in 2003), and once revisited by Anne’s father in 1993. The Goodrich-Hackett drama has only been overhauled once, by Wendy Kesselman, in a newly adapted version that opened on Broadway in late 1997.

That’s the version we’re seeing now at Halton Theater in a Central Piedmont Theatre presentation directed by Marilyn Carter. Since 2008, when I reviewed this new adaptation at Theatre Charlotte, it has become the Metrolina standard, with subsequent productions by Matthews Playhouse in 2010 and Davidson Community Players in 2018.

While the Halton isn’t as ideally sized for Anne Frank as Theatre Charlotte or the old Morehead Street location of Children’s Theatre, whose 1996 production remains the Queen City’s gold standard, set designer Robert T. Croghan doesn’t make the mistake of either glamorizing the Annex or expanding it to fill out the capacious stage. Amazingly, the compacted set has four levels without looking at all posh. Yet as we must peer over an unused orchestra pit that becomes a moat between the audience and the stage, our eagerness for a new CP venue, replacing old demolished Pease Auditorium, becomes all the keener.

We won’t have to wait long. They’re promising a spring unveiling.The Diary of Anne Frank

Strikingly fresh and radically different still don’t describe the revamped script, which hit me like it did in 2008 at the Queens Road barn – after previously seeing the original in Charlotte no fewer than three times. Yes, there are substantial differences, some of them welcome improvements and some curiously out of focus if you already know and love the original movie. Some of the signature moments, like Mr. Dussel’s comedy, have dropped out of sight. But the dramatic highlights are pretty much the same as always.The Diary of Anne Frank

What Kesselman has chiefly refreshed is the Holocaust context, deepening it with more frequent references while providing more extensive portrayals of Dussel, the Franks, and the Van Daans as Jews. Carter has Josh Logsdon as the dentist Dussel wearing a tallis and singing a traditional Hebrew prayer. Subsequently, we get pretty good pronunciation from Hannah Sidranski and Summer Schroter as the Frank sisters when they sing the “Maoz Tsur” after the Chanukah blessing.

The most sensible and gratifying change that Kesselman made was upgrading the presence of Otto Frank, who had become a more renowned public figure during the 42 years following the first Broadway premiere of The Diary. It makes a big difference that he no longer greets us at the beginning, discovering the red plaid diary onstage and ushering us into its imperishable contents. Instead of that prologue, Arthur Lightbody as Otto presides over an epilogue, where he can not only reclaim the abandoned diary but also disclose the fates of all the characters we have come to know over the previous 90+ minutes.

Considering how brutally sudden the Gestapo raid is in this newer script, I’ve found that Otto’s return is oddly helpful in processing the final moments of this little makeshift Jewish community. This is a more spasmodic and sobering narrative, less sensitive and romantic in depicting Anne. Sidranski is more energetic, brainy, and immature as Anne. Words gushed out of her so quickly on opening night that we often had only a vague idea what she was saying. At first, I hoped that Sidranski might soon slow down to evince her maturation during her two years in hiding.

That’s not how Kesselman and Carter seem to be thinking. It’s easier to see moodiness among these families than to see any of them evolving. They’re chafing under the restrictions of their survival mode, that’s for sure, and with the passage of time, we’re getting to know them better – and so are they.

Carter also seems to have spearheaded a rethink on Halton’s chronic audio woes. The setup of mics now dangling down from the flyloft yields far clearer – and continuous – sound amplification than we’ve heard in the past, though differences in levels could be detected, especially upstairs on the set, when actors were more directly under the mics.

Adults in the cast were projecting more consistently than the youths, easier to follow overall. But everyone is believable. Croghan’s costume design is as impeccable as his set, and Carter’s casting is always spot-on. Lightbody radiates a leader’s calm and quiet dignity as Otto, oozing warmth toward the youngsters, especially his favorite Anne, and seeming to take the long view while everyone else is caught up in the moment. By contrast, Rebecca Kirby gives us a sterner portrait of Anne’s mother, Edith, not adjusting well to the protracted confinement and never sunny enough to be called bi-polar.

You may feel otherwise about Poppy Pritchett and her flamboyant turn as Mrs. Van Daan, fetishizing her fur coat, worrying herself over what Anne might be writing about her, and flapping her protective wings around her ravenous husband when she isn’t berating him. On the other hand, Daniel Keith keeps a remarkably even keel in excelling as Mr. Van Daan, Otto’s one-time benefactor, perpetually in quest of respect always winding up as the hydrant of the underdog.

The Diary of Anne FrankMalychia Abudu-Clark and Zach Humphrey come by infrequently, essential buffers between the Secret Annex and the Gestapo, delivering needed supplies and news from the outside, never staying long enough to remove their outerwear. That would be risky for a Dutch national harboring Jews. They best demonstrate their caring when they urge the Franks and the Van Daans to accept Mr. Dussel into their company – and it is here that Lightbody is most impressive in his authority as Otto in waving aside all objections.

No doubt about it, Logsdon changes the vibe when he enters as Dussel. For the first time in months, the Franks and the Van Daans get the grim news of what’s happening elsewhere in the Jewish community. About the merciless Nazi raids. About the transports. At the same time, he’s disturbing the settled sleeping arrangements of the Franks and, moving in with Anne, disturbing the budding adolescent’s privacy and social life while consigning Margot, the older sister, to bunking with Mom and Dad.

The Diary of Anne FrankThere is friction between the roommates across the generational divide, but Logsdon never shrinks from it, frankly outraged when Anne wakens him suddenly, shrieking from her latest nightmare. Yet he is an elite force, reveling in Dussel’s standing as household cantor and tooth extractor, not quite as unflappable as Otto because he never has to take charge.

Margot is rather bland compared to her little diva sister, so Dussel’s arrival is rather fortunate for Schroter in playing the role, for she can proceed to establish herself as the family’s good sport, accepting her altered sleeping arrangements to start with and Anne’s intimacy with young Peter later on. Better yet, Margot is one of the two young people, along with Michael Swinney as Peter, that Anne can open up to when she’s ready for more mature conversations.

These conversations – less obnoxious, overamped, and impulsive than those she has with her elders – help to calm Sidranski down a bit as Anne and show herself off at her best. Huddled downstairs in Anne’s bedroom instead of upstairs where Peter resides and gets his private moments with our diarist, Schroter has the advantage over Swinney in being closer to the audience and more readily audible.

Of course, we strain harder to hear Peter’s precious conversations with Anne, thinking they will probably be the happiest she ever has.

“On Golden Pond” Is Still Sugary at CP, but Never Cloying

Review:  On Golden Pond

By Perry Tannenbaum

Although I had not seen the original 1979 Broadway production – and had staunchly avoided playwright Ernest Thompson’s 1981 Hollywood adaptation – I thought I knew all I cared to know about On Golden Pond when it finally caught up with me at Theatre Charlotte in 2006. Through unsolicited excerpts flashed at me on TV, I had become all-too-familiar with Henry Fonda’s crustiness as Norman Thayer Jr., Katharine Hepburn’s gritty steadfastness as his wife Ethel, the whininess of Jane Fonda as their daughter Chelsea, and the gooey honey that bound them all together.

Were there other characters in the script? That was one of the unexpected delights I discovered as my first full encounter with On Golden Pond, like so many others with The Sound of Music, turned out to be better than I feared. Yet as I also find with that Rodgers and Hammerstein evergreen, there’s a recoil effect that comes with intervening years, and I was dreading On Golden Pond once again as it opened at Central Piedmont Community College.

Directed by Marilyn Carter, the stage version proved to be somewhat sweeter than the film; largely because Elyse Williams gives a sunnier, more domesticated rendering of Ethel; dispelling the hardy Yankee, outdoorsy Hepburn effect. Williams and Tom Scott are less iconic and godly as the elder Thayers than Hepburn and Henry, so Amy Pearre Dunn as Chelsea seemed far more sensible and far less petulant than Jane. Toss in the other people who enter the Thayers’ summer home in Maine, and the story seems less about age-old family animosities and far more mundane.

After many years of estrangement, Chelsea, with her dentist fiancé and his son, arrive to celebrate the dour Norman’s 80th birthday. The betrothed couple presumes to impose twice upon their hosts’ hospitality, sleeping together in the same bed and then – with Norman’s grumbling permission – dropping off Billy Jr. for a month while they fly off to Europe. The Billy invasion has unexpected results, shifting the story away from centering exclusively on the Thayers and their parenting. Ultimately, it also takes in the tribulations of Norman’s aging, his surprising capacity for growth, Ethel’s sweet forbearance, and the realities of a successful marriage.

This is the penultimate show at Pease Auditorium, which will be demolished after Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap plays there this summer. It’s hard to think of any script that has ever fit Pease’s squat stage better than Thompson’s rustic yarn, for James Duke’s set design takes fine advantage of Pease’s panoramic width, and the dwarfish staircase up to the Thayers’ bedrooms hardly seems to matter. I can’t remember if there ever was a curtain drawn across this epic stage, but a curtain would have been largely redundant when the elderly couple arrived, for all the furnishings were covered in drop cloths until, one by one, the Thayers lifted and folded them. Thompson showed a fondness for such elaborate episodes of stage business to kick off his scenes, but it grew less effective in subsequent scenes, where the scurrying business veered toward farce.

The sweeter Ethel in the CPCC Theatre production allows Scott, as a retired Penn professor, to venture close to maximum orneriness – because he’s the one formidable figure onstage. His words stung when Norman and Chelsea had their long-delayed showdown, but part of their impact came from Dunn’s stunned reaction, so I could believe that Norman was being almost casually honest rather than intentionally hurtful. Spoken by Scott instead of a cinematic icon, Norman’s inbred racism also counted for more.

The big dramatic moments of On Golden Pond, as well as most of comedic moments, come because Norman is such a thorny force to be reckoned with – and so insistently morbid. In his confrontations with Chelsea, her fiancé, and Billy, Scott not only wore Norman’s armor well but also showed that it could be pierced. With Ethel, he could be more vulnerable and yielding, which made the climax of the final scene very moving.

Williams was more than sufficiently cheery as Ethel for Norman to spout all his morbid thoughts in self-defense. Sugary, yes, but never cloying. What surprised me most about Williams’ performance opposite Scott was her consistent strength paired with one of the most robust acting voices in town. She was not only as audible as Scott in combat with Pease’s wayward acoustics, she was more consistently intelligible, for Scott occasionally softened his projection or toyed with a regional accent. There was easily enough force from Williams for us to grasp that Ethel was the decider of where things belonged in the house, yet the nuances of her deference toward Norman and its impact upon her relationship with Chelsea were also preserved.

I didn’t get the impression that Dunn was in her early forties, so I missed the overlay Chelsea’s missing her child-bearing years in her bitterness. Unresolved issues with her parents seemed nettlesome rather than crippling, with Scott taking on more of the animosity between father and daughter. Chelsea’s grudges against Mom and Dad were more evenly split here. At her point of aging, Dunn didn’t seem as desperately in need of healing as Norman did, facing the deterioration of his memory. Paul Gibson as Bill really did seem to be the adult upgrade Chelsea needed for her second marriage, showing his mettle when Norman tested it, tellingly enriching our portrait of his perspective father-in-law.

We would hardly miss mailman Charley Martin if Thompson had surgically removed him from his scenario, but Todd Magnusson makes him winsome enough, a garrulous exemplar of local color and a longtime admirer of Chelsea, though he could have been a tad surer in picking up and remembering his lines. Stepp Nadelman has more onerous difficulties to overcome in his first big Charlotte outing as Billy, and the youngster made himself better heard than many older actors have at Pease Auditorium, especially when it counted. Nadelson is no longer at an age where merely standing there and smiling would make him appealing, yet Thompson lavishes a considerable amount of texture upon Billy, commensurate with his ultimate importance to Norman. Although there were occasional drop-offs in his projection, Nadelson’s acting never flagged.

Miller’s “Crucible” Roars Its Power at CP

Final Dress Rehearsal for The Crucible; Pearse Auditorium, October 26th, 2017

Review: The Crucible

By Perry Tannenbaum

Powerful men abound in the annals of drama, but few can vie with the formidability of Deputy-Governor Danforth in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Reminding the petitioning Francis Nurse just exactly whom he’s dealing with, he can honestly claim to have jailed nearly 400 people in various towns across Massachusetts with his signature – and sent 72 to the gallows with that many strokes of his pen.

“We burn a hot fire here,” he warns soon-to-be martyred John Proctor. “It melts down all concealment.”

If those declarations sound to you like they should be spoken softly, you are not reading them the way stage director Tom Hollis did for the current CPCC Theatre production at Pease Auditorium. Panoramic Pease is a challenging place acoustically, often frustrating audience members, especially the elderly, who chance to be seated in one of the side sections, trying to hear what actors are saying at the other end of the stage.

Anybody who has been reluctant to go to Pease, or stayed away because of that frustration is now encouraged to come back. There has never been such a roaring production at Pease – or anywhere else on the CPCC campus. It would be misleading to say that it begins with Tim Huffman, who gives a fearsome account of the Dep Governor in the climactic scene at the Salem Meeting House, ground zero of the infamous Salem Witch Trials. He doesn’t appear in the drama until the second scene after intermission, or Act 3 in the original script.

Final Dress Rehearsal for The Crucible; Pearse Auditorium, October 26th, 2017

We don’t hear anything about the full extent of Danforth’s rampage until he announces it himself, but the steady roar of the panicked citizens of Salem – and the shrieks of the pubescent girls who incredibly become their accusers – testify to the hysteria that has gripped the whole colony. Reverend Samuel Parris intrudes upon his servant Tituba leading a pagan moonlight ritual, with his daughter Betty and his niece Abigail Williams among her acolytes, in a marvelously creepy scene that Miller added to his 1953 script for his 1996 screenplay.

The secret of how that cinematic lagniappe was converted to stage may be locked in a local recipe, since the brief prologue isn’t referenced in the playbill’s rundown of the scenes. When we cut to the original opening scene in an upstairs bedroom of the Reverend’s home, Parris is huddled over the seemingly comatose Betty who will not waken since returning from her midnight revels. As great as Parris’s fears may be for his daughter’s life, his greatest fear is that the word “witchcraft” might be whispered around town about members of his family. His career is at stake.

The fear flips Reverend Parris from his initial condemnation of Betty and Abigail to becoming their staunchest supporter no matter how outrageously they overreach in their reign of terror. Cole Long may be giving us the most chilling performance here as Parris for he is never in the least soft-spoken. This rabid weasel speaks in a passionate, panicky squeal that threatens to shatter glass, most heinously in his waspish attacks upon John Proctor. Long’s high-voltage intemperance makes it easy for Huffman to become mightily annoyed with his zeal.

Final Dress Rehearsal for The Crucible; Pearse Auditorium, October 26th, 2017

Hollis also finds strong – yet sweet – voices for the two most important accusers: Sarah Clifford is the implacably wicked and wanton Abigail, and Ashley Gildersleeve is the ambivalent Mary Warren, the witness Proctor enlists to debunk Abigail’s masquerade. Interestingly, Mary is Abigail’s successor in the Proctor household, hired after Abigail was told to hit the road when she had committed adultery with a now-penitent John.

Clifford gives us a shameless and forceful Abigail. Hollis is wise to include the nocturnal confrontation between Abigail and Proctor, written by Miller for the stage shortly after the original Broadway production, for it reveals Clifford’s full range. Switches between Abigail’s vamping, seductive mode to her imperious affirmations of divine judicial authority can be played so abruptly that the wench can seem to have an insanely split personality. But Hollis and Clifford find the bridge between the two Aby’s in her arrogant self-confidence – she obviously has no doubt that John will ultimately succumb to her charms.

Final Dress Rehearsal for The Crucible; Pearse Auditorium, October 26th, 2017

Gildersleeve proves to us that Mary is also quite a powerful role, pulled ferociously hard in opposite directions by John and Abigail, pivotal in the outcome of the climactic court scene. Hollis is going against the usual impulse to cast Mary as a diminutive mouse who will cower in the proximity of the domineering Abigail. Making her more substantial magnifies the power of both adversaries who tug at her, and Hollis – not withstanding today’s political correctness – does not gloss over John’s abusiveness toward his servant.

The biggest payoff with Gildersleeve is how taut the tension can become before Mary makes her fatal choice. We can see that she isn’t going to break easily. When inevitability sets in, the chaos that breaks out in Danforth’s court is as alarming as you’ll ever see, like a vast cauldron coming to a boil and overflowing.

Nothing less can bring Josh Logsdon down in his hulking, near-Promethean performance as Proctor. There are few mild-mannered moments in his tragic odyssey toward the gallows. If, as he claims, he has walked tiptoe around his own home since his great sin, Logsdon certainly turns the corner when John confronts Elizabeth, raging and roaring at her like a tyrant before her unexpected arrest. Then he turns on the gendarmes with leonine fury as they take her into custody. Then on the quailing Mary, who has brought the incriminating poppet to his house from Salem.

Final Dress Rehearsal for The Crucible; Pearse Auditorium, October 26th, 2017

Torn between taking advantage of Abigail’s affection and risking her fury, Logsdon is comparatively becalmed in their forest scene, but he’s only truly temperate in the presence of the Dep Governor when Elizabeth’s fate hangs in the balance. Even then, we see him as a powder keg, ready to explode in a heartbeat.

The Gothic aspects of such sulfurous action are somewhat muted by the raked and abstract set design by Beth Aderhold and costume designer Jason Estrada’s execution of what could have been Hollis’s most daring concept – transporting the 1692 atrocities to the McCarthy Era 1950s when Miller’s tragedy premiered. But the concept gathers little further momentum. We find no TV in the Proctor home that could be tuned to the HUA or Army-McCarthy hearings, and no projections on the blank upstage wall from contemporary newspapers heralding the anti-Commie hysteria that Miller was obliquely targeting.

It’s Caryn Crye who unexpectedly brought me the strongest flashback to the 50s as Elizabeth. Again and again, Crye’s quietly assertive and judgmental portrayal evoked the Emmy Award-winning Audrey Meadows in her iconic role as Alice Kramden on The Honeymooners (1952-57). This is a cold and grudging Elizabeth who knows a woman’s place yet never backs down. She comes to see her own failings and their causes in the poignant final dialogue with John. Yet when we hear her last words, it’s hard to discard the notion that nothing less John’s march to the gallows could convince her of his complete atonement for his infidelity.

The depth and power of the CP cast helps to shine new light on Miller’s lesser characters. Giles Corey usually comes off as a contentious, litigious, and ultimately harmless old fool, but Tom Ollis – among the loudest actors we have – bellows him to a different place, now fully consistent with the defiant eulogy Elizabeth gives him. Reverend John Hale is also prone to trivializing, apt to be portrayed as a naïve student who needs the books he carries to substantiate his witch-sleuthing credentials.

Tony Wright plops those books down in the Parris bedroom as if he has read and absorbed very word, needing them merely to double-check his vast erudition and point out chapter and verse to the common folk who have hired him. Most Hales seem to be windblown by the dizzying events in Salem, but Wright’s is open-minded and discerning, ultimately bewildered by the insanity that surrounds him, still grasping and feeling the tragedy as deeply anyone.

Final Dress Rehearsal for The Crucible; Pearse Auditorium, October 26th, 2017

My only disappointment was Corlis Hayes, who starts off so spectacularly in her second pass at Tituba at CP, where she also excelled in 2001. Abetted by James Duke’s lighting design and Marilyn Carter’s movement coaching, she’s an object of terror in the opening blood ritual. She “lays low” obsequiously enough, if I might be permitted an Uncle Remus allusion, as cries of witchcraft pursue her like the Eumenides. Hayes breaks so pitifully under the merest pressure that it’s almost comical.

Ah, but when she reaches the prison – the first to be branded a witch – Hayes mangles the words of Rev. Parris’s hapless servant so badly that they are unintelligible. That’s a shame, because Tituba has the freshest, wittiest, big-picture perspective on the whole Puritan catastrophe.

“Devil, him be pleasure-man in Barbados, him be singin’ and dancin’ in Barbados. It’s you folks – you riles him up ‘round here; it be too cold ‘round here for that Old Boy.”

Those who profess to fear and loathe Satan come to rule in 1692 Salem – zealots, scoundrels, and a pack of screaming she-wolves led by a vengeful, slatternly she-devil – wreaking havoc that even Satan might marvel at. Miller wrote The Crucible in 1952 to show postwar Americans that history can repeat itself, destroying us from within. Miller’s message still resonates in post-2016 America, and CP is serving it up scorching hot at maximum volume.