BWW Review: THE HIDING PLACE World Premiere is Poignant & Powerful at A.D. Players
"I release you.
I release you.
I release you."
Is it possible to be released from the bondage of suffering, while still in the midst of it? How often does suffering-past or present--grasp hold of our entire being, making it near impossible to believe in the goodness around us? The World Premiere Adaption of THE HIDING PLACE asks us these questions, while simultaneously being an answer to them. Additionally, A.D. Players holds strong ties to the telling of this story. Founder Jeannette Clift George starred as Corrie ten Boom in the critically acclaimed film adaptation after working alongside Corrie to bring her to life on the screen. This heart-wrenching and enlightening play sets the tone for A.D. Players' 53rd Season-A Season of Hope.
THE HIDING PLACE chronicles the real-life experience of the ten Booms, a family of humble watchmakers living in Holland who find themselves tasked with sheltering Jewish individuals during the Holocaust. Corrie's father, Caspar ten Boom (James Belcher), willingly accepts these "marching orders" as instruction from God to open his household to all needing refuge, regardless of their difference in faith or them being strangers.
For years I have heard theatre defined as "Telling the truth under imaginary circumstances", and THE HIDING PLACE is one of the finest examples I have encountered. Playwright A.S Peterson adapted real-life Corrie's book of the same name to the stage in this production, which is also A.D. Players' first world premiere. Peterson approaches her story with a sincere spirit. His work does not exaggerate for the mere sake of drama, and rightfully so. Simultaneously, he does not water down the truth for the sake of making it an easier, more 'theatre-friendly' pill to swallow. Peterson skillfully sidesteps the danger of creating a historical caricature out of this story, and instead forms a retelling that presents these people as just that-people. People who in a time where the stakes were the very highest, chose to risk their own safety for the solace of others.
Nan Gurley was utterly brilliant as Corrie ten Boom, who guides the play through vignettes of her own memory. Nuanced, strong, and sincere, she brought each facet of Corrie to light onstage, honoring them all equally. Peterson gave Corrie's character an earnestly human voice, one that doubted, feared, and resented the evil she was surrounded with. Gurley took this written language and translated it into a fully expressive performance. She was simply true, and it was breathtaking.
In contrast to Corrie's tentative but willing response stands her unwaveringly kind sister, Betsie. The two complement and encourage one another through brutal circumstances as Betsie fights to convince Corrie of the goodness around her. Betsie, portrayed with warmth and grace by Celeste Roberts, trusts wholeheartedly in the spiritual journey of their suffering, though she too admits to fighting to maintain that belief. She acts as a spiritual beacon for others, reading scriptures to the other women in their camp and humbly distributing smuggled in hosts for communion.
Another standout in the cast was the performance of Doug Atkins. Atkins portrays Otto, a German apprentice in the ten Boom's watchmaking shop who later becomes a Nazi lieutenant in the camp that Corrie and Betsie are taken to. Crude and harsh from the start, Otto is an example of personified evil throughout this story. While Atkins has been seen on several of Houston's stages in past seasons, I believe his performance in this acting-heavy and emotionally layered role defines him as a major player in the theatre scene.
Director Kevin Dean guides this piece from start to finish with a naturalistic and truthful touch, which along with Peterson's writing makes for an effective and poignant piece. Though the play contains very difficult, somber moments, Dean's direction avoids feeling heavy-handed or overdone. His staging especially shined in the closing scene, which brought Corrie's internal struggle full-circle in a final flashback that gave me shivers.
Kevin Rigdon's scenic and lighting design paired with Paige Willson's costuming lifted this story from what can feel like distant history into a tangible reality, assisting the audience in confronting the reality of these memories. Rigdon's designs grounded the history onstage in a quaint watchmaking shop, the obscured closet hiding place, and rows of rickety bunkbeds in a flea-ridden concentration camp. Additionally, the somber transition chords played between Corrie's flashbacks and various settings stood out in Michael Mullins' sound design.
There is no doubt that portions of this play were hard for me to watch, but I can assure you that the difficult moments are both worthwhile and essential. This is a tale of light overpowering the darkest of the dark, of goodness conquering wicked in the hearts of those that have experienced evil firsthand. As the curtain closed, the audience filed out of the theatre with a hushed reverence, as if to collectively honor the performance and give the ten Boom's courage the respect it deserves.
Photography Credit: Joey Watkins Photography
THE HIDING PLACE will run at A.D Players at The George Theater through October 13th. Performances are Wednesday - Sunday, running 2 hours and 35 minutes with a 20 minute intermission. Please visit adplayers.org or call the Box Office at 713-526-2721 for ticket information.