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Thursday, 27 September 2012 10:38

“Between the dark and the daylight…”: 'The Children's Hour'

Written by Connie Bollinger
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pictured (LtoR): Melissa Weyn and Shaina Schrooten
pictured (LtoR): Melissa Weyn and Shaina Schrooten photo by Eric Woolsey

One of the most dangerous and terrifying stages in life is that miasma of insanity called puberty. Lillian Hellman's "The Children's Hour" explores that nightmare landscape within the framework of a remote girl's school crammed with raging teen hormones and vicious half truths.

Like its offspring, The Crucible and more recently Doubt, "The Children's Hour" explores the far reaching devastation wrought by a simple lie whispered by a revenge seeking individual.

Written in 1934, its themes of bullying, gossiping, blind innuendo and possible homosexuality were so controversial that there was some doubt as to whether it would be allowed to be staged. Thankfully the play has endured and its lessons repeated for decades.

Becca Andrews shines as student Mary Tilford the spoiled, dangerously psychotic and vindictive bully who is the terror of the school. Ms Andrews is uncomfortably perfect in her role, pouting and spitting venom, stomping around like every angry pre-teen you've ever seen. To her credit, Ms Andrews successfully walks that fine line between giving all she's got to the part and chewing the scenery.

Melissa Weyn and Shaina Schrooten play teachers Karen Wright and Martha Dobie, gentle souls who met in college and are attempting to make a success of their school. Both actresses are very good, but perhaps a bit less energetic in the lighter parts of the play than I would have preferred.

Charlie Ingram plays Dr Cardin, Miss Wright fiancee. Joe Cardin is a good man, loyal and understanding and Mr Ingram imbues him with a human side that balances a role that depends on the actor to make the good Doctor a bit less saintly and a lot more fallible.

Martha's overbearing Aunt Lily, also a teacher at the school, is played with skill by Mary Rinderspacher and Alicia Smith plays poor, tormented student Rosalie. Ms Smith's Rosalie had my stomach in knots as she struggled to resist Mary's vicious manipulation.

Director Tim Ocel chose his cast wisely and put together an effective, professional and altogether entertaining production made even more extraordinary by the fact that all the actors are still students at the Conservatory of Theatre Arts.

The themes of The Children's Hour are many and deeply layered. This production handles them beautifully.

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