Arts & Leisure

A moving, powerful ‘Anne Frank’

CAYLA CAMPELL stars in “Anne Frank” at the Westminster Community Playhouse. Eric Schiffer co-stars as Otto (WCP photo).

By Thom deMartino/Orange County Tribune

She was a vivacious, headstrong girl on the precipice of adulthood, with dreams of one day becoming a writer: it is a beautiful, tragic irony that it is her writing, her diary, that gives a stark, candid, yet strangely hopeful portrait of humanity in an as-yet unparalleled era of persecution and unconscionable deeds.

Playing through Sunday at the Westminster Community Playhouse and directed by Priscilla Gonzalez-Suciu, “The Diary of Anne Frank” relates the heart-rending true-life story of the young Anne Frank (Cayla Campbell) and her family, as they struggle to hide from Nazi persecution of the Jewish people in Amsterdam during World War II.

Anne’s father Otto (Eric Schiffer) has secreted away his family – including Anne, his wife Edith (Irina Kompa) and Anne’s sister Margot (Bethany Meagher) – in the attic of his former business, but the compassionate father has decided not only to hide his own family, but to shelter the Van Daan family as well.

For a time, things are tolerable in the cramped space: the group is brought meager supplies and food daily by their guardian angels Miep Gies (Haley Hollis) and/or Mr. Kraler (Andrew Orris), who risk their own lives to help; but as the months stretch by in the claustrophobic quarters, with its inhabitants unable to move or make a single sound for hours at a time … nerves are beginning to fray.

The initially grateful Mr. Van Daan (Rick Werblin) has become increasingly critical of the group’s lack of food, as well as Anne’s precocious and outspoken manner. Mrs. Van Daan (Desi Molinari) revels in the nostalgia of her youth, as she openly flirts with the disinterested Mr. Frank; while their quiet, reserved son Peter (Carter Roman) is slowly opening up to Anne as their friendship deepens.

But with the addition of the uptight and forlorn Mr. Dussel (Christopher Girt) to their group, the already strained rations are dwindling faster and faster still… until one wonders which is the greater threat: the tightening grip of the Reich … or the fevered desperation of people pushed to their limits?

With the popularity of such an important biography as “The Diary of Anne Frank” (and unfortunately, some all-too familiar similarities in today’s current events), it follows that this production has found itself selling out shows, making it all the more crucial for audiences to catch this timely, bittersweet story before the show’s close.

The entirety of the WCP stage is transformed into the shared, modest lodgings of the group, with a beautifully clever, open design that makes the audience privy to multiple characters’ quarters… and their more private moments.

The interactions between Anne and Margot, as the more reserved sister begins to succumb to depression and envy at her sister’s blossoming relationship with Peter; Mrs. Van Daan’s despair at a treasured item’s loss; the shame, callousness (or compulsion) of a member stealing food for themselves under cover of night; all symptoms of the increasing strain on the party approaching a breaking point.

The entire cast excels with the depth of their performances, the nuanced interactions between characters; there feels to be a genuine familial affection between the cast members that shines through, particularly in the internal family dynamics of both the Frank and Van Daan clans.

Cayla Campbell’s Anne is a remarkable, deftly walking a tightrope between a fierce inquisitiveness, independence… and the fragility of a young woman coming of age in an impossible time of despair and darkness… yet somehow summoning from those depths a sense of humor and joy, despite the anguish of what she and her family are forced to endure. Her heartfelt bond with Shiffer’s Otto shines brightly beneath the amber stage lights: a testament to the fact that despite playing characters, actors often can portray a deeper truth.

A moving, heartbreaking snapshot of a family sheltering from events beyond their control, struggling to retain their compassion for those in need as they try finding joy in the small beauties in life, “The Diary of Anne Frank” at the Westminster Community Playhouse is vital, essential viewing: a must-see for all ages to take in – and take to heart – before its close.

“The Diary of Anne Frank.” Cayla Campbell, Eric Schiffer and Carter Roman star in this tale of one young girl’s story of her family’s struggles during the Holocaust, yet somehow finding hope beyond the despair. Now playing through April 2 at the Westminster Community Playhouse, 7272 Maple St, Westminster. Ticketing information available online at, or call (714) 893-8626.

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