What happens when lies are embraced as truth? When "fake news" is believed? And when actual facts are buried by falsehoods and equivocation? I picked The Children's Hour, this 83-year-old show, at least six months before our 2016 presidential candidates were chosen. I had no idea how timely it would become again. Timely because although the show is about human rights for all, particularly the LGBT community, and deals with "good people" destroying lives when they are manipulated with lies.
Hellman wrote The Children's Hour as an exercise, to teach herself how to write a play. Believing that she would do better to find a subject based in fact, she adapted a book, Bad Companions (1930), a true-crime anthology that related an 1810 incident at a school in Edinburgh, Scotland. A student accused two of her schoolmistresses, in the presence of their pupils, of having an affair. The accuser's influential grandmother, advised her friends to remove their daughters from the boarding school. Within days the school was deserted and the women had lost their livelihood. The teachers sued and eventually won, both in court and on appeal, but given the damage done to their lives, their victory was hollow.
So Hellman adapted this story as an exercise. In May of 1934, she worked as a play reader in the office of theatrical producer Herman Shumlin whom she asked to read her sixth draft of The Children's Hour. He read it as she waited. After he read the first act, he said, "Swell." After reading the second act, he said, "I hope it keeps up." After reading the third act, he said, "I'll produce it."
The three-act drama ran until July of 1936, closing after 691 performances. The financial and critical success of the New York production encouraged Shumlin to present The Children's Hour in other cities. In December 1935, authorities in Boston declared that the play did not meet the community's moral standards and that it could not be performed there as scheduled. In January 1936, a municipal censorship ordinance was used to decline granting a performance permit for The Children's Hour in Chicago. The Children's Hour was in serious consideration for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for 1934-35, but the award was presented instead to Zoë Akins' The Old Maid because one of the Pulitzer judges had refused to see it due to its controversial subject matter.
First Presbyterian Theater is proud to present this classic American play, a play that is always timely when the world embraces fiction as fact, and "good people" stand by and watch lives destroyed.
It features Marissa Stieber as Martha Dobey, Taryn Wieland as Karen Wright, Joel Thomas Miller as Dr. Joseph Cardin, Janeen Kooi as Mrs. Lilly Morter, Dotty Miller as Mrs. Amelia Tilford, Luci Foltz as Agatha, Bobby Way as the delivery boy, Cassandra Smith as Mary Tilford, Jilian Holub as Evelyn Munn, Katarena Burke as Peggy Rogers, Emily Marshall as Rosalie Wells, Kelley Sisson as Catherine, Cassidy Romines as Lois Fisher, Rachel Sisson as Helen Burton and Ryan Stieber as Leslie. Costumes are by Jeanette Walsh, stage management by Jennifer Netting Sophia Young and the direction and set and light designs by Thom Hofrichter.
For tickets, call 426-7421 ext. 121 Thursdays and Fridays from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. or one hour prior to every performance. Most nights you can walk up to get a ticket to that night's show, but call the box office check availability if you are deciding last minute. Tickets are also available at firstpresbyteriantheater.com.