The Diary of Anne Frank (dramatized by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett) does well with a difficult assignment, achieves through quiet sensibility what could be wrecked by staginess. From young Anne Frank's real-life chronicle of herself and seven other Jews hiding out during the Nazi occupation in an Amsterdam garret (TIME, June 16, 1952) have come vivid stage pictures of their huddled, muffled, weirdly commingled existence. It was an existence fated to end in Nazi concentration camps and death, but for the two years it lasted, it proved a fascinating mixture of the brightly ordinary and the hideously abnormal, of all-too-human squabbles and all-but-superhuman control, of comic faultfinding and heroic adjustment, of people at once transformed and quite untouched.
The play is at much its best in portraying the group life and the general problem, in such special circumstances, of two families living under one roof. Neither in the sudden moments of midnight terror nor in the explosions of cramped boardinghouse farce is there any prettifying. If Anne's father (beautifully played by Joseph Schildkraut) is disciplined and quiet, her mother can be excitable; Dussel the dentist is fussy, Mr. Van Daan greedy. Under Garson Kanin's skillful direction, there is no more of an attempt at heartbreaking gaiety than at lurid gloom; there is chiefly a day-by-day liveliness, a gradual learning to walkand on tiptoeamong eggs.
With Anne's own brattish or girlish part in the group, the play also succeeds. In her more personal scenes, where a secret self must be made vocal and visual, she sometimes falls short. There is nothing so private as a diary or so public as a stage, and the two, at times, refuse to dovetail. Again, certain loudspeakered diary passages take on the tone of bulletins. But a play that very largely succeeds with its material everywhere respects it, and in her limelighted Broadway debut, 17-year-old Susan Strasberg plays Anne with obvious talent and much animation and appeal.
Manhattan critics, hailing the birth of a new star, called Susan Strasberg "enchanting," "radiant" and "breathtaking." A high-school senior at Professional Children's School, Susie stands 5 ft., weighs 96 Ibs. No theatrical novice, she began her career at 14 in an off-Broadway production. She played Juliet on TV when she was only 15, and has already appeared in two movies, The Cobweb and the forthcoming Picnic. Though she was swamped with movie offers after opening night, she will not do another one until next summer.
Susie's mother is Actress Paula Miller, a knowledgeable guide ("Susie didn't start studying till she was 14 because I loathe child acting"). Her father is Director Lee Strasberg, cofounder of the Group Theater, director of the Actors' Studio, leading U.S. exponent of the Stanislavsky ("live the role") method of acting. He has helped develop many stars, e.g., Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Julie Harris, claims that one of his current students, Marilyn Monroe, will some day amaze skeptics with her dramatic range. Daughter Susie got little formal help from him ("I don't take students younger than 18"), surprised him with her theatrical know-how when he saw the out-of-town tryout. Says Susie: "I'd been picking things up from him by osmosis."