By Kathy Flynn
David Gurrola and Genesis Ochoa in "The Diary of Anne Frank"
Photo by Elvira Barjau
Stan Zimmerman's production of The Diary of Anne Frank was embroiled in controversy before it even opened, due to outraged reporting on the casting of Latinx actors in the roles. The production was inspired by a CNN report on a safe house in L.A. where a Jewish family was protecting a Latina mother and her daughters after her husband was deported by ICE. Zimmerman immediately made the connection to Anne Frank, and obtained the rights, only to be meet with contention as soon as rehearsals began.
In terms of controversy, there is no there there. While the opening takes on new meaning in the context of the introduction, it's a word-for-word staging of the 1997 adaption by Wendy Kesselman. There are no ICE agents in the streets, it's just an implication, a what if, brought about solely through casting.
When the play opens, the room is bare and the characters, presumably a group of Latinx residents of a safe house, are dressed in neutral black and grays. There are no props or set décor, only the scripts the actors are holding. They begin by reading the play, each taking on a part. Over time, they start inhabiting the roles they are reading. After a brief intermission, the bare room is dressed to become the annex, and the characters reappear wearing brightly colored period costumes. It's an abrupt transition that doesn't entirely work. It takes too long to get where they are going, and the set change comes long after you have already become accustomed to the stripped down setting.
Cast of "The Diary of Anne Frank"
Standing: Tasha Dixon (Mrs. Frank), Emiliano Torres (Mr. Frank),
Raquenel (Mrs. Van Daan), Robert C. Raicch (Mr. Van Daan), Keith
Coogan (Mr. Kraler), Heather Olt (Miep), Genesis Ochoa (Anne Frank)
Seated: David Gurrola (Peter Van Daan), Raymond Abel Tomas (Mr. Dussell)
Photo by Elvira Barjau
For the most part, Genesis Ochoa dazzles in the role of Anne Frank, playing the insightful teen as a bouncy, enthusiastic young girl. Initially, her mile-a-minute dialogue was sometimes a bit too rapid to understand, but as the play moved on she relaxed into the role of a young girl on the brink of womanhood, doing her best to remain sunny in horrific circumstances. The weight of the entire play rests on her shoulders and she carries it off beautifully.
Nikki Mejia, a new addition to the cast, shines as Anne's sister Margot, with an understated turn filled with both vulnerability and a quiet dignity. Telenovela star Raquenel's plays Mrs. Van Daan with over-the-top brashness in the style of Charo or Sofia Vergara. While amusing at times, I wish there was a little more nuance in her performance.
While there is plenty of room for improvement, Zimmerman's production looks at the familiar story with fresh eyes, and is both moving and thought-provoking.
The Diary of Anne Frank runs through February 24, at The Dorie Theatre at The Complex, located at 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. 90038. Performances are Friday and Saturdays at 8PM and Sundays at 3PM, (No Shows: Fri. Feb. 1 through Sunday, Feb. 3). The show has a running time of 100 minutes with a 10 minutes intermission.
There will be a special Q&A following Jan. 27th performance for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
General admission advance purchase $25.00 (open seating, first come first served), at the door $30.00 (cash only). Reserved seats are available for $35.00.
To purchase tickets, visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3921444
Read Discover Hollywood's interview with director Stan Zimmerman here: www.discoverhollywood.com/Discover-Hollywood-Blog/2019/January/Interview-with-The-Diary-of-Anne-Frank-Director-.aspx