Lillian Hellmans The Childrens Hour at Lakewood Playhouse is intelligent and superbly acted and directed and it is an emotional train wreck.
After opening on Broadway in 1934, the play was banned in Chicago, Boston and London, and the Pulitzer Prize committee refused to consider it. Because of subject matter that should no longer be controversial, it is seldom performed by community theaters. Kudos to Lakewood Playhouse artistic director John Munn, who also directed this production, for bringing it to Lakewood, and to the cast and crew for tackling such an intense dramatic show.
Like other disturbing literary properties such as Lord of the Flies and The Crucible, this play is about the harm caused by a young sociopath this one a schoolgirl, Mary Tilford, who destroys the lives of two teachers by starting a vicious rumor. She accuses the teachers, Karen Wright and Martha Dobie, of having a lesbian love affair, and she blackmails another student into backing up her story.
Kira Zinck, a sophomore at Puyallup High School, plays Mary, and she is utterly convincing as a manipulative and heartless girl who will do anything to get what she wants. Zinck, who I am told is a perfectly lovely young lady, is creepy and frightening as Mary.
Maggie Lofquist plays Karen. We see the hurt in her eyes, and the intelligence. Her acting is nuanced and conveys her reality subtly.
Deya Ozburn plays Martha. She is frankly amazing. Her timing, her hesitant pauses, and the manner in which she holds back her reactions tells us much more about Martha than is expressed by her words. She is tentative. She is clearly wrestling with emotions she has not acknowledged even perhaps to herself, and all of this is expressed in the physicality of Ozburns acting.
The time frame is the 1930s, and the play reflects this beautifully. Young girls were drilled in proper deportment and behavior. Many subjects that might be freely discussed today were not to be spoken of or even thought especially not by young women such as Karen and Martha. Emotional outbursts of any kind were considered female hysteria. And yet, in the face of such societal pressures, Karen and Martha are seething with internalized feelings, and both Lofquist and Ozburn masterfully convey this complexity.
Gabriela Aleman, a student at Tacoma School of the Arts, plays Rosalie, the girl who is blackmailed. She brings tremendous acting skill to a vital role. Other cast members whose acting stands out are Laura Kessler as Marthas detested aunt, Lily Mortar; Carol Richmond as Marys grandmother, Amelia Tilford; and Cassie Cahill as Agatha, Amelias maid. And Paul Richter has the unenviable job of portraying Karens fiancé, Dr. Joseph Cardin. He turns in a credible job of acting a sweet, naïve and clueless man, but he cant stand out on this stage filled with such strong female characters. The set by Judith Cullen is a simple multi-layered riser in the center of the theater-in-the-round space with lovely period furnishings. Cullen also did the lighting, which, like the set, is deceptively simple but sets the mood nicely. The costumes by Kelli McGowan are true to the period; the womens dresses are particularly fine.
This is not light entertainment. It is unmitigated spite and anguish, and it does not end well. Hellmans writing is outstanding. Her understanding of the complex workings of the human heart and of societal prejudices and pressures is masterful.
Because of the controversial subject matter, the director is having talk-backs to discuss these issues after each of the Sunday matinees.
Check Alecs blog at alecclayton.blogspot.com in February for reviews of Or at Harlequin Productions and Next to Normal at Capital Playhouse in Olympia.