Edmond Chibeau looks at performance and theatre from the avant-garde communication perspective

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Location: Mansfield, Connecticut, United States

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Anne Frank at Suffield Academy

The Diary of Anne Frank
By Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett
newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman
Director: Thomas Dugan
Suffield Academy: Jeanice Seaverns Performing Arts Center
May 18, 2017

One of the most important, and most difficult, tasks a director must face is getting an integrated performance from the actors. Setting a tone that works across all elements of the show, from actor to actor and from set to lighting, requires both subtlety of interpretation and clearness of communication. 

This must happen, first between the director and the interpreters of the work, and then (most importantly) between the actors and the audience. It helps tremendously if the performers are intelligent and cooperative. But even the most sensitive actors can lose their focus if the director is not clear.

 The production of Diary of Anne Frank at Suffield Academy has the advantage of both intelligent performers and a sensitive director who has managed to clearly communicate his vision.

The actors are all teenagers, but only two of the characters are teenagers. We are able to suspend our disbelief because the performance style is mature and understated. No one chews the scenery. The actors find dramatic value in the emotional intensity of the compressed physical situation; they do not lose control of their emotions.

The set, and especially the lighting, are exceptional. The several rooms in the hidden annex of the house in Amsterdam require different playing areas and different levels. This gives Jack Pumpret, the set designer, an opportunity to develop a complex and evocative stage picture.

 I was amazed to discover that the lighting was designed by a high school student (Oak Chaisathaporn).    While watching the performance I had assumed that it was the work of a very talented faculty member. I had expected the lighting to be serviceable, but did not think that there would be much opportunity for creativity. I was wrong. The many different types of light are motivated by fires, flashlights, searchlights,  and different hours of the day.  This inspired Chaisathaporn, the lighting designer, to give us a parade of different lighting effects.

This is not a happy play, the situation is dismal and the ending is tragic. And yet we are uplifted at the end. The story of Anne Frank is a testament to the joy of living and the power of the human spirit to face the most dehumanizing circumstances. Why we feel uplifted at the end of this story is a mystery, but it has something to do with the spirit of the young girl who tells it, and the power of art to transform tragedy to inspiration.


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