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On Theater: A stark, visceral telling of the Holocaust

June 16, 2011|By Tom Titus
  • Peter Senkbeil and Marianne Savell in "The Hiding Place."
Peter Senkbeil and Marianne Savell in "The Hiding… (Noel Hadley, Daily…)

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.

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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."

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