Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Diary of Anne Frank
Paradise Valley Community College
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's reviews of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (School Edition) and The Kite Runner

The Cast
Photo by Taylor McMurray
In a time when discussions of exclusion and persecution continue to dominate the political landscape, the classic, factual drama The Diary of Anne Frank serves as a poignant reminder of the consequences of such ideologies. While Paradise Valley Community College's production has a few shortcomings, including an uneven cast, it still manages to bring Anne Frank's harrowing tale to life and capture the emotional and heartbreaking plight of the characters.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Anne Frank and her family, they were Jews who lived in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. The play covers the two-year period when Anne, her family, and a few others hid from persecution in the attic of her father's factory. During the day, with the bustling activity in the shop below, the hidden occupants are forced to be quiet and still so they don't attract any possible attention from the people working, which creates a palpable sense of claustrophobia and fear.

Only at night, when the workers are gone and there is no risk of a strange noise from above being questioned, are they able to achieve some sense of normalcy. The cramped quarters and constant fear of discovery create a tense atmosphere, heightened by the looming threat of Nazi oppression, and we witness the frayed emotions of eight people living in such close quarters and the constant fear of being discovered, which adds to the heightened intrigue of the piece.

Based on Anne's own diary, "The Diary of a Young Girl," which Anne kept when she was 13 and in hiding and which was published shortly after her death, the play offers a glimpse into the daily struggles and triumphs of the hidden inhabitants. From moments of humor and camaraderie to profound bonds forged by being forced to live together, the characters' resilience shines through, despite the darkness that surrounds them. Hope from news of the Normandy invasion makes the inhabitants believe that liberation is just days away, while the looming dread that no one can be trusted is always at the forefront.

Wendy Kesselman's 1997 adaptation of the 1955 play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett adds layers to Anne's character, including moments that delve into her complex relationship with her mother and her innermost thoughts about her budding sexuality–all topics that Anne's father chose to omit when the diary was originally published but that were added to later publications. The fact that the majority of people seeing this play are already aware of what happened to Anne makes all of the moments of humor we witness, the close family bonds we see portrayed, and the hopes they aspire to achieve once liberation comes that much more heartbreaking.

While several members of the cast are slightly uneven in their portrayals, Shayla Forero is captivating as Anne, capturing both her youthful exuberance and the maturation forced upon her by circumstances beyond her control. The rest of the cast manage to capture the nervousness and frustration of their characters, with Gabrielle Lawrie and Veronica Lawrie especially effective as Anne's mother and sister.

Gary Zaro's direction adequately balances the tension and humor in the piece and Ryan Wentzel's multi-level set design is effective in portraying the various rooms of the attic. However, since the design uses almost the entire stage of PVCC's large performing arts venue, the sense of claustrophobia is somewhat lost. Also, while Wentzel's projections, which include many archival photos, is great for the final moments in the show, the song that is used during that scene seems too modern and goes on for far too long, making the emotional ending less impactful. Sarah Houghtelin's costume and hair designs are period and character appropriate.

In a world grappling with issues of intolerance and injustice, The Diary of Anne Frank serves as a sobering reminder of the human cost of hatred and discrimination. While it isn't perfect, Paradise Valley Community College honors Anne's legacy with a moving and thought-provoking production of a play that is as relevant today as it was during the darkest days of World War II.

The Diary of Anne Frank runs through April 21, 2024, at Paradise Valley Community College, 18401 North 32nd Street, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 602-787-7738

Director: Gary Zaro
Scenic & Projections Designer: Ryan Wentzel
Costume & Hair Designer: Sarah Houghtelin
Lighting Designer: Olivia Terry
Sound Designer: Toran Keeley
Properties & Assistant Projections Designer: Gabrielle Lawrie
Make-Up Designer: Monet Emrey
Religious Consultant: Matthew Finks

Anne Frank: Shayla Forero
Otto Frank: Johnathan Gutierrez
Edith Frank: Gabrielle Lawrie
Margot Frank: Veronica Lawrie
Miep Gies: Betsy Smith
Peter Van Daan: Nicholas Kula
Mr. Kraler: Connor Fleming
Mrs. Van Daan: Courtney Collingwood
Mr. Van Daan: Blake Flynn
Mr. Dussel: Seth Frasier
First Man: Mike Faust
Second Man: Connor Fleming