Theater Review: “The Children’s Hour”
Photo Credit: Chamberlayne Actors Theatre.
“They said we had ‘sinful sexual knowledge of each other.’”
“The Children’s Hour,” a play by Lillian Hellman and directed by Billy-Christopher Maupin, is currently running at Chamberlayne Actors Theatre or “CAT.” “Hour” is a story of how one lie, spread by a malicious, calculating, and selfish little girl, can ruin numerous lives.
Karen Wright, played by Donna Marie Miller, and Martha Dobie, played by Alina Collins-Maldonado, run a boarding school for girls. One difficult student Mary Tilford, played by Lily Hargis, feels she is constantly being singled out by her headmistresses and always getting in trouble. In order to escape this perceived hostile environment Mary runs home to her grandmother’s house, Amelia Tilford played by Sara Roderer.
Once at her grandmother’s, Mary starts a vicious rumor about her headmistresses having an illicit lesbian affair. Once news spreads of the “unnatural” goings on at the school, all the students are removed by their respective parents and caretakers, and Karen and Martha’s lives, and their school, are left in shambles.
“The Children’s Hour” is a story that highlights the extreme homophobia that was rampant in the early 20th century. Lily Hargis, playing a very convincing sociopath, is brilliant as the villain, Mary Tilford. Mary blackmails and manipulates everyone around her to get her way, not realizing the great consequences of her actions, as many children don’t.
There was an ensemble cast of young actors in this play and I was highly impressed with their individual professionalism and ability. Alina Collins-Maldonado, playing Martha Dobie, was fantastic and I was very taken with her facial expressions and ability to convey intention and meaning without saying a word. Miller, playing co-headmistress, Karen Wright, is featured in her second production at CAT and I will say it did take a while for me to warm up to her, not just because of her character but because I find her to be too affected in her speech and lacking a genuine likeability that an audience can relate to. However, Miller did begin to grow on me as her character, and she, developed in Act III.
Again with this production at CAT I was disappointed with the costumes. The play is supposed to be set in the 1930s which one would never know based on the modern clothing and anachronistic Jansport-style backpack Mary is seen wearing in one scene. Without prior knowledge of the play it would be extremely difficult to guess in which decade “Hour” is taking place. One of the only indications would be when Mary says she needs “a dollar for the taxi.” That being said, the color scheme was beautiful.
Set designer Betsy Muller uses tones of black, gray, and white throughout, highlighting the play’s somber theme. The furniture was a bit too simple, mostly wicker, which is easy to move but not necessarily appropriate for a play that takes place inside and not at a beach house. If you do choose to see this play you won’t regret it and make sure you stick around for the surprising and untraditional curtain call.
“The Children’s Hour” is running at CAT through April 7. Please visit www.cattheatre.com, or call 804.262.9760
Jen Maciulewicz is theatre critic for GAYRVA.com and is a Richmond local. Jen attended VCU and holds a B.S. in Anthropology. She has starred as Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes" and attended VCU’s School of Music. Follow Jen on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jenlaumac.
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