Burning Coal Theatre Company
@ Murphey School Auditorium
Through April 27

Is there anyone in America who does not know the story told in The Diary of Anne Frank? Two Jewish familiesplus one irascible dentisthide from Nazis during World War II in a secret annex behind Otto Frank’s company in Amsterdam. Fed and protected by their friends, they survive close confinement, clashing temperaments and growling hunger for more than two yearsalmost to the day of liberationonly to be caught and sent to the death camps in the last months of the war.

Only Ottoand Anne’s diarysurvived. Abandoned when she was taken, it was recovered after the war and given to Otto, who published an edited version. A play and a movie were made in the 1950s. A later version of the play contains more of Anne’s growth into a sexual being.

A blend of both versions is directed here by Abdelfattah Abusrour, a Palestinian theatre artist who had no previous experience with the play, though he had read the diary. Having grown up in a refugee camp, he brings considerable insight to the material. His approach is straightforward and honestfresh enough to rivet one’s attention, if not particularly innovative.

Burning Coal casts young actors when it can, and this production shows how effective they can be in portraying people their own ages.

The demanding role of Anne is filled by 10th-grader Samantha Rahn, who has already done impressive work at Burning Coal and elsewhere in the region. She portrays Anne as a hyper-intense adolescent, mercurial and difficult but nearly bursting out of her skin with vitality and adventurousness.

Tenth-grader Anna Grey Voelker makes Anne’s quieter sister Margot into a real person, not just a foil. And Josh Martin, another high-schooler, grows before our eyes as shy Peter van Daan, first repulsed and then captivated by Anne’s bold ways.

The “grown-ups,” as Anne calls them, are realized by more seasoned actors. Jenn Suchanec, as the feisty yet frightened Mrs. van Daan, and John Allore, as the brave and loving Otto Frank, are particularly moving.

The staging is very effective: After having your papers checked by a couple of actors portraying Nazi officers, you ascend to a low room on the balcony and throng around the setthe compact world of the tiny annexwhere Matthew Adelson’s very good lighting design and Aharon Segal’s wonderful ambient sounds intensify the experience.