The setting for The Company Theatre’s regional premier production of a play about fugitives hiding from the Nazis is the small town of Haarlem during the German occupation of Holland. It’s a dangerous time to be anywhere in occupied Europe, but Corrie ten Boom and her family have raised the stakes precariously by building a tiny hidden room, the “hiding place” of the play’s title, behind the bookcase in a bedroom of their architecturally eccentric old home.
They do this to provide shelter for those fleeing the Nazis, including the country’s Jewish citizens, because they believe it’s their duty to help others.
It’s a hard way to live, and the actors and directors of “The Hiding Place” say the theater piece based on the ten Booms’ experience is a hard play to perform. The play comes from a best-selling book written 40 years ago about the ten Booms’ struggle from the memories of the family’s only survivor.
The book was written in conjunction with a Hingham couple, Elizabeth and John Sherrill, who were seeking true and uplifting stories in the decades following World War II when they learned of Corrie ten Boom. It was written in part to confront the myth of “Holocaust denial” in the years after the war, said Zoe Bradford, one of The Company Theatre’s artistic directors.
Corrie ten Boom was in her 70s when she told her story of “courage, suffering, and forgiveness” to the Sherrills, Bradford said. Its title refers not only to her family’s hidden room, but also to a verse from Psalms that reads, “Thou art my hiding place and my shield.” Many of the Jews and members of the Dutch resistance the family sheltered succeeded in escaping the Nazis.
After the family was betrayed to the Nazis by someone claiming to need their help and later arrested by the Germans, a handful of fugitives remained safe in the hidden room for two days before they were rescued. But four family members would die in captivity, including Corrie’s beloved older sister Betsie, who starved to death in the notorious Ravensbruck concentration camp.
Because of its challenging material, Bradford said, she believed the play would provide a valuable experience for the 23 cast and crew members in the theater’s youth academy production, ranging in age from 14 to 23.
“The Hiding Place” is a difficult play to learn and perform, the actors said, but a growth experience as well.
Colie Smigliani, 16, of Hanover, who has been in the theater’s youth productions since fourth grade, said playing Corrie ten Boom is “definitely the hardest role I’ve had to play. She’s older, she’s physically different. . . . She had tremendous faith and a capacity for forgiveness. That’s one of the insights I’m taking from the show.”
Catherine Andersen, 18, of Hanover plays Betsie.
“One of the things within the show is the big difference between the two sisters,” Andersen said. “Betsie is quicker to forgive. Betsie says, ‘We must forgive the Germans; they need it the most.’ Corrie is taken aback. She can’t quite forgive them for the murder and the hurt they’ve caused.”
Betsie’s faith is summed up in a saying she offers others: “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”
Corinne Mason of Canton, who’s directing the youth academy production of “The Hiding Place” along with Steve Dooner of Weymouth, also believes that taking part in this production “would make an impact on [cast members’] life, how they approach tragedy.”
“Right now,” Mason said, speaking of the Boston Marathon bombings, “I’m excited to be able to offer this play to the audience — a show that is based so strongly around the faith in individuals it takes to get through tragedies.“
The actors and directors said they were buoyed by a visit from the Sherrills, who talked about meeting and working with ten Boom, a woman whose belief in forgiveness remained strong late in her own life. Bradford said she became interested in “The Hidden Room” after meeting the Sherrills at a Hingham church and fell in love with the story. Her theater then got an old script and adapted it for their purposes.
Smigliani said taking part in the theater’s workshops and productions has already changed her life. “It’s my second home,” she said. “I actually take something from every role I play. I’ve grown up doing shows. It’s almost who I am.
“I was really shy,” she said. “My mother said, ‘I don’t know what to do with you,’ so she put me in theater. She makes me thank her every day.”