Nearly everyone who sees the current production of "The Diary of Anne Frank" at the Manatee Performing Arts Center will know beforehand how its story ends. That would dampen the effectiveness of most plays, but actually enhances the impact of this one.
We know the real-life Anne stayed idealistic, hopeful and youthful through her unimaginably horrific experiences. So when we first meet her, as she enters the Amsterdam attic that will be her prison for nearly the rest of her life and she sees it as place of wonder and adventure, we instantly admire her instead of dismissing her. And as the play progresses, the tension increases not because we don't know what will happen, but because we do.
The sole set for this production, designed by Ralph Nurmela, is that attic. It's perhaps the biggest and most elaborate that the Bradenton Kiwanis Theater -- the smaller, studio space at the Manatee Performing Arts Center -- has ever seen.
The set is wonderfully dingy and depressing, and appropriately claustrophobic, but not unattractive. The back wall is slatted allowing the audience to see shades of outsiders on their way to the hidden attic and that makes for some tense moments.
Director Kathy Pingel, working with material that couldn't be further removed from her Manatee Players debut with "Spamalot," has staged a sensitive and powerful production that emphasizes Anne's character and the parts of her story that show her to be a typical teenager concerned with dating, conflicted about her parents, wondering about the future.
The production's acting is inconsistent. Some is not good at all. But the performance that matters most -- Audrey Lipton's as Anne -- is much better than we have a right to expect from a 14-year-old community theater actor. Lipton, who has a perfect look for the role, elicits the requisite intelligence and optimism for the character. Her acting is confident even when her character is unsure of herself.
All the young people in this production do fine work. Adam Fuentes, as Peter, has only a few scenes, but they're critical ones an he's completely credible. Miranda Wolf adds emotional complexity to the relatively minor role of Margot.
Among the adults, the best performances come from Joseph Smith as Mr. Van Daan, Catherine Burke as Anne's mother and Jason Lipton a the obnoxious Mr. Dussell.
No matter how well you know the story and show, Anne Frank -- both the real-life character and the one we see in this Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, in a new adaptation by Wendy Kesselman -- remains fascinating and inspiring, and her life and death remain devastating to contemplate. You come away from this production with renewed appreciation for both the humanity and the inhumanity that "The Diary of Anne Frank" embodies.
Details: Jan. 14-31, Bradenton Kiwanis Theater at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave, W., Bradenton. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $26. Information: 941-748-5875, manateeperformingartscenter.com.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.