The play is called "The Children's Hour," but don't bring your young kids. This is one of the most serious dramas to be staged at Central Lakes College in recent years.
Solid performances elevate a script that could've used an editor (it clocks in at two hours with a pair of intermissions), but after the powerful ending, audiences might have a hankering for something lighter, like "The Sound of Music," to be staged the next two weeks in Brainerd.
"The Children's Hour" was staged before a nearly full house Friday at CLC's Dryden Theatre, and it continues at 7:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.
Mary (Hannah Kangas) doesn't get her way, so she destroys the property of her teacher.
Following airy scenes of kids studying at a country boarding school, the plot kicks in when young Mary Tilford, a nightmare of a child (and well-acted by Hannah Kangas), cries wolf, whispering to her grandmother (Joan Witham) that she saw two female teachers kissing.
Lillian Hellman's controversial play first was staged in 1934, then resurrected in 1952, as the story seemed an apt parallel to the Communist witch hunts and Hollywood blacklisting going on at the time.
Director Dennis Lamberson wisely sets "The Children's Hour" in 1952. Although this predates the rock 'n' roll revolution of a decade later, there is a subtle crackling in the air in the '50s, something that suggests to the grandmother that maybe Mary's outlandish (for the times) claim is true.
So in that sense, it is about gay relationships. And indeed, there is something curious about the way Karen (Jessie Horman) refers to her husband-to-be Joe (Douglas Larson) as "a good friend" and "such a nice man."
But it's the exploration of a lie's power, and the sometimes scary control that schoolchildren can wield over teachers, that will resonate with today's audiences.
If you go
What: "The Children's Hour"
Directed by: Dennis Lamberson
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday
Where: Dryden Theatre, Central Lakes College, Brainerd
Tickets: $5 (public), free (CLC students), available at CLC Bookstore or 855-8199
The play doesn't explore why Mary lied (in a third-act throwaway line, one character suggests it was out of boredom, and it is notable that Mary's parents are never seen nor spoken of). Instead, it focuses on the ramifications for teachers Martha (Chantelle Frie) and Karen. We don't see the angry mob of pitchfork-wielding local yokels, but we can imagine them just outside the teachers' windows.
As noted, the actors make the dire script palatable. Witham is the standout, giving Mrs. Tilford a Betty White-like voice and a bearing that suggests she would've fit right in with the acting style of the '50s. Horman, Frie and Larson, familiar names in the area theater scene, show off their experience.
And the kids acquit themselves well. For a good chunk of the first act, the action is carried by Kangas, Maren Goff, April Katzaman and Erika Tweed, all of whom are well short of high-school age. Kangas is a tornado tearing through the characters' lives, dreaming up new ways to draw attention to herself and trouble to others.
She has great chemistry with Witham, allowing the audience to understand how a seemingly wizened woman could buy into a community-shaking lie.
JOHN HANSEN, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5863.
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