Like their contemporaries, the Frank family of nearby Amsterdam, the Ten Booms of Haarlem, Holland, who weren't Jewish, were persecuted for providing refuge to Jews duringWorld War II.
Another contrast: While Anne Frank's words survived via her famous diary, she did not. Conversely, Corrie ten Boom was released and became celebrated on the postwar lecture circuit.
It is her reminiscences that inspired "The Hiding Place," Corrie's story adapted by Tim Gregory, and the opening entry of the American Coast Theater Company's fourth season at Costa Mesa's Vanguard University — the ACTC's most ambitious project yet.
While "Anne Frank" ended with the family's capture, "Hiding Place" devotes its entire second act to the captives' brutal treatment at the hands of the Nazis. And, suddenly, the early 1940s seem uncomfortably close at hand.
Susan K. Berkompas directs this searing drama (gripping, but about a half-hour too long) with a strong but tender hand, eliciting some superb performances depicting the crisis conditions that prevailed at the Nazi death camps. A huge cast of 20 actors — some doubling or tripling in "good" or "evil" roles — underscores the play's authenticity.
At the center of this traumatic tale is Marianne Savell as Corrie ten Boom, a devout Christian woman who accepts the challenge of sheltering Jews within her father's watch shop from 1940 to 1944, when a treacherous neighbor sells them out to the Nazis. Meeting this same man, reformed and seeking forgiveness, after the war sets up a riveting confrontation that bookends the dramatic events.
Savell, employing a credible Dutch accent, delivers an achingly effective performance. Her experiences in the concentration camp, as friends die all around her, are rendered with chilling validity and her struggle to save her stricken sister is played out with stark poignancy.
That sister, Betsie, is beautifully rendered by Deb Marley in a particularly demanding assignment. Stan Jones warmly inhabits the saintly guise of their father, while Mark Bowen nicely interprets their brother Wilem.
Some supporting performances are unforgettable. Tim Larson's Judas-like character Jan Vogel is given a passionate interpretation. Doug Scholl exudes power as a self-centered fugitive neighbor.
Danielle Mellili strikes sparks as a wheeler-dealer prisoner. Peter Senkbeil stands out as a strangely compassionate Nazi lieutenant. And Lori Siekmann is brilliant as a cruel Nazi guard known as "the general."
Eight performers double as Jewish characters and Nazis, a directorial choice. Berkompas notes that she "wanted to explore the duality of man's human nature, the co-existence and potential of good and evil in every human being." It's a message powerfully delivered.
Scenic designer Kent McFann has created an effectively cramped interior backdrop for the first act and an imposing prison camp setting for the second. Costumes — by Ann Delahanty, Lia Hansen and Carole Zelinger — are strikingly realistic, while Jonathan de Roulet's lighting and Michael Fleming's sound design contribute splendidly.
Ensemble effort is excellent, though occasionally verbal clarity suffers in the shuffle. And playwright Gregory has drawn out the second act with repetitive conflict regarding faith and forgiveness, overstating his point and extending the experience.
Nevertheless, "The Hiding Place" is a stark, visceral account of the Holocaust which will leave an indelible mark on its audience.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.
If You Go
What: "The Hiding Place"
Who: American Coast Theater Company, Vanguard University, 55 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., 2 p.m. Saturday matinees through June 25.
Call: (714) 619-6424