Steve Suriano has been to the Anne Frank House at Westermarkt 20 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He understands very well the importance of laying out the stage just right.
"You have to convey that sense of being cramped," said Suriano, who is directing the Classic Theater Guild production of "The Diary of Anne Frank" opening Thursday (Oct. 31) at the Beth Israel Congregation on Eastern Avenue in Schenectady and running through Nov. 10. "You have to feel that sense of eight people living together closely in a corner. You have to get that feeling across to the audience with your set."
Suriano, who directs high school musicals at both Guilderland and Voorheesville high schools, played Mr. Van Daan in a production of "The Diary of Anne Frank" about 10 years ago, then actually visited the home in Amsterdam during the summer of 2018.
"It was an incredible moving experience to be in the show as an actor, and then I was lucky enough to be able to go there last summer and visit the house," said Suriano. "It was amazing, and it really brought back that feeling I had experienced 10 years ago. I also left there knowing that we had to get the set right. That gave me a vision of what we had to do and we've been working hard to achieve that vision."
Getting talented actors might have been the easy part. Krista Rivers, a junior at Voorheesville, plays Anne, and her father, Otto Frank, is played by Jesse Braverman. Sharing the stage with them will be Marie Oppedisano as Edith Frank, Caroline Jameson as Margot, Gordon Brown as Mr. Van Daan, Ken Goldfarb as Mr. Kraler, Rachel Perlman as Mrs. Van Daan, Alan Angelo as Mr. Dussel and Kendon Brown as Peter Van Daan.
"I reached out to a number of school districts, and I'm lucky enough to work in Guilderland and Voorheesville," said Suriano. "We had to get a girl to play Anne that was as precocious as a 13-year old but then credibly more mature as a 15-year old. [Rivers] is terrific, and our whole cast is wonderful."
The diary covers the two years Anne Frank's family and some neighbors spent in their upstairs room during Nazi-occupied Netherlands from 1942-1944. Frank eventually died in a German prisoner-of-war camp during the spring of 1945.
"This isn't just a Jewish play," said Suriano. "It's a play about the human spirit, and I would say it's a celebration of the human spirit rather than a tragedy."
"The Diary of Anne Frank," also known as "The Diary of a Young Girl," was first published in the Netherlands in 1947, and gained worldwide acclaim in 1952 when it was translated into English. The book was turned into a play in 1955 by screenwriters Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. That pair adapted it for the movie version in 1959.
Susan Strassberg played Anne on Broadway and earned a Tony Award nomination for her work. The play itself won the Tony for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Goodrich and Hackett. Natalie Portman portrayed Anne in a 1997 revival that was nominated for two Tonys, including Best Revival.
The 1959 movie, starring Millie Perkins as Anne, earned eight Oscar nominations and won three, including Best Actress for Shelly Winters as Mrs. Van Daan.
While the Classic Theater Guild will take audience members back to World War II Europe, the Albany Civic Theater will revisit 1959 Montgomery, Alabama, where librarian Emily Reed was persecuted by segregationist politicians for refusing to take a children's book, "The Rabbits' Wedding," down from the shelf. "Alabama Story" previews Thursday at 7:30 p.m., opens Friday and runs through Nov. 17.
The play was written by Kenneth Jones and had its world premiere in 2015 in Salt Lake City. The Albany Civic version is a Capital Region premiere for the show, which has been produced in numerous cities around the country, including Washington, D.C., and St. Louis. It was a 2016 nominee for the Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award and a finalist for the National Playwrights Conference of the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center.
Heather Sheridan plays Emily Reed. Sharing the stage with her will be Marquis Heath, Matthew Side, Lucy Breyer and Steve Maggio. Barbara Davis-Dickman is directing the production. Jones, a New York City-based playwright and former journalist, will make an appearance for a talk-back with the audience following the Nov. 10 matinee performance.
'The Diary of Anne Frank'
WHERE: Classical Theater Guild, Congregation Beth Israel, 2195 Eastern Parkway, Schenectady
WHEN: Opens Thursday (Oct. 31) and runs through Nov. 10; performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $20-$18
MORE INFO: Visit Classic Theater Guild on Facebook
WHERE: Albany Civic Theater, 235 Second Ave., Albany
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through Nov. 17
HOW MUCH: $18-$10
MORE INFO: www.albanycivictheater.org or (518) 462-1297