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Strong cast and staging lend poignant grace to familiar 'Anne Frank'

Mia Goodman as Anne Frank in "The Diary of Anne Frank” at Compass Rose Theater.
Mia Goodman as Anne Frank in "The Diary of Anne Frank” at Compass Rose Theater. (Photo by Stan Barouh)

Compass Rose Theater's current production of "The Diary of Anne Frank" features a strong cast presenting a compelling re-telling of a familiar, yet haunting tale, the story of a teenage girl in World War II, recorded in her diary found after the war and published by her father in 1947.

The 1955 Pulitzer- and Tony-awarded play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett is an adaptation from the diary of Anne Frank, who from 1942 to 1944 hid from Nazi officials in Amsterdam with her family and four other Jewish Dutch citizens.

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Eight lived in an annex over her father's business in cramped confines and constant fear of the horror outside.

In 1944, at age 15, Anne stopped recording events. Her story celebrates a life tragically cut short.

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By any measure this Compass Rose production fully succeeds — with an excellent cast from top to bottom and brilliant direction, smartly paced. The show includes an adaptable multi-level set defining minimal quarters — its uppermost loft divided into three bedrooms for Mr. and Mrs. van Daan, Anne and Mr. Dussel, and Peter van Daan, all cramped under the skylight where uninterrupted action can flow smoothly.

Sensitive lighting by Alex Brady marks time of day and captures every mood. Attractive 1940s costumes designed by Beth Terranova help define each character.

Also in evidence is Compass Rose's signature talent in bringing contemporary immediacy to classic drama — a talent seen in last season's "Murder in a Cathedral."

Despite its being set more than 70 years ago, Lucinda Merry-Browne, producing artistic director, said she finds the current production "probably one of the timeliest and relevant stories that needs to be told right now."

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Another noteworthy aspect of this production is Merry-Browne's mission to showcase young talent — displayed by 14-year-old Mia Goodman in the title role, and with Compass Rose Young Actors' Studio graduate Eli Pendry cast as Peter.

Having served as assistant director of Compass' previous play, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," Steve Tobin seems fully at home directing his cast to create masterful drama. Tobin observed that Anne "shares the simple complexities of growing up that we all recognize."

"The tragedy of Anne's story is one of unrealized potential" said Tobin, noting that the "triumph is that more than 70 years later, we are still telling it, and being inspired to be better members of the human race."

Goodman delivers a multi-dimensional portrayal of precocious, multi-faceted Anne — perhaps because she seems not unlike her energetic, hopeful counterpart from the 1940s.

Goodman has already performed a number of roles at such Washington venues as Ford's Theatre and Arena Stage.

Here, her portrayal includes nonstop talking and running through the family's rooms in earlier scenes before becoming less frenzied as she contemplates the threshold of adulthood. Attracted to "lone wolf" Peter, Goodman's Anne yearns for this adult awakening, coldly dismissing her mother's protective urging to delay.

Having enjoyed young Eli Pendry's three previous Compass Rose performances — "Lost in Yonkers" and "Look Homeward, Angel" followed by his portrayal of Romeo — I found his role as Peter Van Daan transformative. He shows great commend, moving his character from awkward boy to an honest young man of quiet strength, expressing admiration for Anne.

Another featured fine young actor is Jenny Donovan, who plays Anne's studious older sister, Margot. The character is given dignity and compassion by Donovan in her Compass Rose debut.

Steve Lebens as Mr. Frank opens the play magnificently as he reverently enters the attic rooms after the war's end. In these rooms that sheltered his family for two years, Lebens' Frank discovers the scarf Anne knitted for him their last Hanukkah. His portrayal is even more stirring as he is given Anne's diary.

Alicia Sweeney delivers a fully dimensional portrayal as the quiet nurturing Mrs. Frank — and dominates a climactic scene when she chastises adult "guests" who take more than their share of limited rations.

As the once-wealthy van Daan, Bryant Centofanti grows increasingly intolerant of his wife's constant bragging of her younger sought-after days. As self-absorbed Mrs. van Daan, Jill Kyle-Keith injects much-needed humor in this drama.

Edd Miller plays grumpy Mr. Dussel, the last displaced person to join the group. He's short of patience with roommate Anne's prolonged dressing sessions and generally annoyed by all three young people, and thus Miller's Dussel also provides several needed laughs.

As the group's benefactor Miep Gies, Rachael Murray brings fresh air with her every arrival at the attic shelter, as Miep delivers rations of food, with only cheery news. Murray conveys intense buried emotion over the injustices done to Mr. Frank and his family while maintaining her quiet serenity amid the group's mounting difficulties.

"The Diary of Anne Frank" continues weekends through Sunday, April 17, at Compass Rose Theater at 49 Spa Road in Annapolis. For tickets, call the box office at 410-980-6662 or online at compassrosetheater.org.

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