The opening moments of Nevada Conservatory Theatre’s “The Diary of Anne Frank” sum up what’s wrong with this entire show.
Wendy Kesselman’s 1997 adaptation gives us a look at the Holocaust through the eyes of two families hiding in an attic from the Nazis. It focuses on the day-to-day domestic complications of a small group of ordinary people.
Director Robert Brewer chooses to get us in the mood by offering a prologue in which a screen shows us a montage of the Third Reich, accompanied by a thunderstorm, stage smoke, and eerie music. You feel that the creature from the lagoon is about to rise up and eat us all.
When you realize the play is at heart a family drama, you wonder what Brewer’s hocus-pocus was all about. Does he feel the need to tell us that Hitler is lurking behind the events of this story? Does he feel the script is not dramatic enough? Is he trying to force an epic sweep onto a simple story line?
Throughout the evening, Brewer overstates. Those redundant clippings of evil Germany keep interrupting the action. Most of the actors exaggerate one or two character traits so that they become types instead of people.
College senior Rebecca Reyes — an obviously talented performer — tries to impersonate the early-teens Anne Frank by playing so perky and adorable that you join the other characters in wishing she would just sit still. Union actress Norma Morrow makes the self-absorbed Mrs. Van Daan so bitchy that she often comes off like a cartoon witch. And Taylor Hanes tries to show Mr. Van Daan’s frustrations by making stern faces and faking a commanding walk.
All of this extreme thespian-ing results in us feeling that these people have inter-personal conflicts not because of their confinement, but because they are eccentrics who couldn’t get along with anyone.
There are several enjoyable performances, particularly one by the angelic-faced Jack Mikesell. As the young Peter, who develops a crush on our heroine, Mikesell effortlessly projects a troubling shyness mixed with a steely determination.
John Iacovelli’s detailed set is visually pleasing, while still communicating the wretched crampness. It never makes you feel so closed in that you don’t want to watch.
This isn’t a bad production. It’s stately, competent, elegant and dull. I wish Brewer had just let the story happen instead of apparently feeling the need to juice it up.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.REVIEW
What: “The Diary of Anne Frank”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Judy Bayley Theatre, UNLV, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway
Tickets: $20-$30 (895-2787)