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The Children’s Hour

a Drama
by Lillian Hellman

COMPANY : Lionheart Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : College Street Playhouse
ID# 5074

SHOWING : May 05, 2017 - May 21, 2017



One of the great successes of this distinguished writer. A serious and adult play about two women who run a school for girls. After a malicious youngster starts a rumor about the two women, the rumor soon turns to scandal. As the young girl comes to understand the power she wields, she sticks by her story.

Director Allan Dodson
Helen Laura Dietrich
Agatha Dot Reilley
Mrs. Tilford Kathleen Seconder
Karen Wright Jillian Walzer
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"The Crucible" at a Boarding School
by playgoer
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Like Arthur Miller’s later "The Crucible," Lillian Hellman’s "The Children’s Hour" tells the story of lives ruined by the lies told by a group of girls. In this case, the ringleader is Mary (Hunter Lanius), who has all the girls in her boarding school under her thumb, and who has her grandmother Mrs. Tilford (Kathleen Seconder) wrapped around her little finger. When the owners of the school (Brittany Walker as Martha Dobie and Jillian Walzer as Karen Wright) attempt to punish her for one of her many lies, she makes up a story to get them into trouble. Her plan works, and their lives are destroyed.

This is a fairly talky play, with a lot of serious one-on-one conversations. Director Allan Dodson has blocked the show to have a fair amount of movement in these scenes, but his pacing is glacial. Consequently, the feeling is that of static discussion, and the show seems to drag more and more as the plot wears on. Yes, there are a lot of strong emotions on display, and the actors make them seem real, but deeply felt emotions do not automatically translate into drama.

The set, designed by Tanya Caldwell, contains a base layout with a staircase stage right and a fireplace stage left. At the start and end, this functions as the school. In the middle section of the play, with one wall panel reversed stage left and with a change of furniture, it functions as the living room of Mrs. Tilford’s house. Set decoration is artistic, but too distinct to really work as two separate locations. A stationary wall panel stage left with wallpaper matching only the reversed panel gives a slightly "off" look at the start of the play. The set is fully functional, though, and Gary White’s lighting design keeps all the action easily visible.

The time period of the 1930’s is suggested through the sound design by Bob Peterson, the props by Tosha Andrews, the hairstyling of Brooke Wade, and the costumes by Catherine Thomas. The matching school uniforms worn by the seven schoolgirls are particularly impressive. Visual appeal is enhanced by the swankier outfits for Ms. Seconder and for Christine Trent (playing actress-turned-teacher-turned-actress Lily Mortar).

Performances are all good or better, and thoroughly heartfelt. Jillian Walzer and Raleigh Wade make for a handsome romantic couple, and Brittany Walker and Christine Trent make the sparks fly as a battling niece and aunt. Kathleen Seconder impresses both with her barbs and her sincerity, and Hunter Lanius makes the audience despise the duplicitous Mary she plays while admiring her skill as an actress. The minor parts don’t give the actors playing them all that much to do, but they all acquit themselves well.

"The Children’s Hour" can be a riveting play, but it needs an ebb and flow of actions and emotions that is lacking in Lionheart’s production. Making an audience endure a play by sitting for over two hours is not the same as having them riveted to their seats. Of course, not all audience members may stay for the entire show; at the performance I attended, a married couple stormed out with the epithet "disgusting!" as the hints of lesbianism in the plot came to the foreground near the end of the second act. Controversial material from the 1930’s can still be controversial today! [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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