The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman is currently running at First Presbyterian Theater through March 25. This classic play, inspired by an older true story Hellman had read, shows the damage that can be caused by lies.
As the play opens, we meet the teachers and several students at a small boarding school in the 1930s. Karen Wright and Martha Dobie have worked and sacrificed for eight years to bring the school to a successful point, and Wright is about to be married. This is all jeopardized by a troubled student named Mary who tells fibs and outright lies from the moment she appears on stage. Her biggest and most destructive lie centers around her completely unfounded assertion that Wright and Dobie have an “unnatural” relationship, after she hears a secondhand report of a conversation between Dobie and her aunt.
Occasionally, when I write a review, I find that much of what I found significant was also discussed by the play’s director in the director’s notes. That is, of course, both good and a little challenging. It’s good in that it provides a match of directorial intention with audience reaction, even if only on the part of one member of the that audience. It’s only bad in that it may mean a few points repeated from the director.
One beautiful thing about theater, like most other forms of art, is that it allows us to make connections between what we are shown and our own lives within our own cultures. As director Thom Hofrichter points out in his notes, we are living in a time when facts are disputable and claims need not be supported by evidence, regardless of the damage the “alternative facts” may cause when, as he says, “‘good people are manipulated with lies.”
Bits of wisdom are offered by this play. Most come from Karen Wright as she examines her possibilities for the future after the fallout from the claims made against her by a spiteful little girl who gains the support of her powerful grandmother. When talking with Dr. Joe Cardin, her fianc?e, about where she can possibly go after her reputation is destroyed, Wright shows solid understanding of human weakness and reality.
As Wright, Taryn Wieland is well cast. Though she could certainly show a bit more range of emotion considering the intensity of her part in the plot, Marissa Stieber is generally fine as Dobie, too. Joel Thomas Miller as Dr. Cardin, a character who does his utmost best to bring peace, is very good indeed and quite charming as he navigates between his aunt (Mary’s grandmother) and the teachers. Janeen Kooi is fun to watch as Dobie’s theatrical aunt, Mrs. Lily Mortar.
Cassandra Smith, a sixth-grade student, has the very difficult role of the seemingly wicked Mary and is able to pull it off pretty well. The other young ladies playing the parts of other students are also impressive, especially Emily Marshall as Rosalie Wells.
The sets serve the production more than adequately, and other elements of the production, particularly costumes, are solid.
Like so many plays that offer truths, this classic isn’t really fun to watch, but it is well worth seeing since it inspires thought and understanding of the risks brought about by believing in things we shouldn’t.