By CHARLIE JARRETT
Special to the Gazette
This week’s review covers two terrific theatrical productions. The first, The Diary of Anne Frank, is conveniently located at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, and the second in San Francisco, The Jungle, playing in the completely re-envisioned Curran theater, which has been gutted and modified to stage this mind-boggling production.
Where do I start in describing Timothy Near’s exciting, heartwarming, poignant and stellar production of Wendy Kesselman’s adaptation of playwrights Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s famous play, The Diary of Anne Frank. This story follows the harrowing experiences of the Frank family spent in hiding, in an attic annex (formerly a spice laboratory) above her father’s spice and pectin factory. “Het Achterhuis” (The Annex), as it was first titled, was published in the Netherlands in 1947, translated and republished in English in 1952, as “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl”. Its popularity inspired the 1955 play co-authored by Goodrich and Hackett. I would believe that most of my readers are quite familiar with the story of the Frank family and their ordeal between 1942 and 1944 during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Many of you may have as well seen a version of the play or the 1959 movie version at some time over the years so I’m sure you must be familiar with the both uplifting and tragic story. The original red checkered diary kept by Anne Frank while her family remained in hiding in, is currently part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, but the transcription of her record of those two years has been published in more than 60 languages and has become one of the world’s most well-known books.
Everything about this production is exceptionally well done, from the remarkable set design by Nina Ball, costumes by Jesse Amoroso, and the splendid cast. Monique Hafen Adams demonstrates superbly a 13-year-old character’s unfettered instantaneous joy and sorrow, during her family’s ordeal her loving father, Otto, and mother, Edith, are played by Victor Talmage and Marsha Pizzo. In the original diary Anne Frank gave each of the family’s annex guests a fictitious name, so the names of the characters in the play and the movie have different names then you would find historically affiliated with the real-life event. The story characters include business caretakers Mr. Kraler (Paul Plain) and Miep Gies (Alison Quin), Miep Gies’ family dentist, Mr. Dussel (Michael Patrick Gaffney), his partner Mr. Van Daan and his wife (Michael Butler and Dominic Lozano), their son Peter (Kevin Singer), Anne’s sister Margot (Maya Michal Sherer), and last but not least, two of the Nazi soldiers described as first and second man (Joe Ayres and Justin Hernandez).
I can only describe this exquisite theater production as “must see”. It continues Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, Thursdays and Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm with 2:30 pm matinee performances on Sundays, now through its Sunday, April 22 closing date. Tickets range between $34 and $56 and tickets may be acquired by visiting the theater and LCA box office at 1601 Civic Dr., in downtown Walnut Creek, on the lower level of the theater complex. Alternately, you may acquire them by going to www.CenterREP.org or by calling (925) 943 SHOW (7469).
What you will see and experience, should you decide to visit the Curran theater’s production of “The Jungle”, is a reenactment of events (theatrically produced) typical to those which actually occurred during the height of the horrific refugee crisis that had taken place across Europe and settled in large part in Calais, France. In October 2014, there were 1500 refugees in “The Jungle”, in October 2016 there were 8000 refugees, and in November 2016 the camp was cleared. As stories of refugees drowning while trying to negotiate the Mediterranean crossing between Libya to Italy by crossing the Mediterranean Sea in boats far too small and much too crowded to negotiate the dangerous waters seem to mount unabated, journalist, photographers and authors converged on the region seeking to understand what catapulted so many people to their death in search of a better life. Two such playwrights, Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, traveled to France join with the refugees while living with them in their “jungle” encampment, thereby being able to capture their stories amid the real experience.
Under the brilliant vision and foresight of Carole Shorenstein Hays and Sonia Friedman Productions with Tom Kirdahy, this remarkable play has been extracted from its successful productions in London and New York, where the West Coast premiere of the Good Chance Theater, National Theater, and Vic Young production of The Jungle is now open.
However, be prepared for something probably few of us have ever experienced as you enter what appears to be a reconstructed refugee village on the floor and in what was once the orchestra seating area of the Curran theater, which has been in large part, gutted to accommodate what appears to be a portion of that real refugee camp within the confines of Calais France. You may find yourself sitting on a raised floor, or a simple backless wooden benche, or on old chair, or upstairs in the original balcony theater seats to watch and feel a part of the refugee community. Prepare to NOT be fully comfortable, nor should you. Running between simple tables, benches, and makeshift furnishings, you will find elevated acting ramps.
As the play starts, you will find yourself invited to attend an emergency meeting of the multi-ethnic citizens of this community, who have just been informed by the French authorities that their encampment will be bulldozed in the immediate future, and they, the refugees, will subsequently be disenfranchised. This is so incredibly like the real thing! You will witness the infighting, the violence, the theft, the consequences of death, the smoke bombs, the gunshots (from a reasonably safe distance) over the course of this superlative experience.
There are 24 actors (a number of whom actually lived in the real slum in Calais at one time), all of whom deserve specific credit for their superlative acting, physical agility, and commanding and demonstrative language (at times vulgar). Unfortunately, my column does not have the space luxury to fully describe the colorful dialogue and superlative performances so many times delivered, even if I could find the adequate words to describe it. This simply has to be experienced. Be prepared to turn down your hearing aids (should you have any) at times, due to confusing background noises. Today, at a time in our country when more of us need to understand more fully the urgency that plagues far too many people in our world who are attempting to survive and/or improve their lives, I strongly recommend that you find a way to see one of the most remarkable productions in theater that I have ever seen.
The tickets for The Jungle range between $25 and $165 and are available at sfcurran.com/jungle, and the show continues Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and with Sunday matinees at 1 pm, now through Sunday, May 19. The Geary theater is located at 445 Geary St. approximately 3 ½ blocks northwest of the Powell Street BART station. This show is absolutely a “Must See” production!