The book was converted into a 1955 play and an Oscar-winning 1959 film by Hollywood scribes, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, who were brought onto the project by Anne’s father, Otto Frank, after he fired the original playwright, Meyer Levin. After a long court battle, Levin signed away his rights to his work, a reputedly darker and less sanitized drama that was barred from production.
Goodrich and Hackett’s play and film versions appealed to the audiences of the day, who wanted a feel-good spin to Anne’s heartrending tale. Wendy Kesselman’s adaptation -- which was produced on Broadway in 1997 starring Natalie Portman in the title role -- integrated Anne’s newly discovered writings with survivor accounts in an attempt to lend more historicity and heft to the drama.
Kesselman’s adaptation, now at the Noho Arts Center, is a good-faith effort that fails to fully redress the play’s problems -- which are further exacerbated by director Mark Belnick’s staging, which too frequently strikes an arch and artificial tone.
As Anne, Valerie Rose Lohman is particularly problematic, playing her doomed character as an irritatingly coy miss who never walks when she can romp and never laughs when she can giggle. From saint to sufferer to spoiled diva, and so on, the other performers play to their stereotypes -- masks that seldom shift to reveal the flesh-and-blood individuals underneath.
That’s partly due to that problematic source material, but instead of tamping down the emotional contrivances, Belnick encourages his cast to overplay. That’s a shame, because the performers are obviously invested in their material and there are some genuinely moving moments -- how could there not be? But too many false moments dull much of the play’s potential poignancy.
“The Diary of Anne Frank,” NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 25. $25. (323) 960-7788. www.plays411.com. Running time, 2 hours.