By: Ronnie Ruff
The Childrens Hour at WSC
The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman starts on a slow path to it’s conclusion but as the plot thickens this melodrama of blackmail and lies in a 1930s girls school comes to life with a riveting but predictable ending. WSC’s H Lee Gable directs and casts Christopher Henley and Jay Hardee in traditional female roles that are open to experimentation. In today’s world of politicized gender issues Gable very successfully twists screws that at first seem frozen but as the play progresses they eventually loosen, freeing Henley to give us a performance of steady, but frail brilliance. Hardy succeeds wonderfully as well in a performance that he nails. The show touches on sensitive topics with thoughtful consideration, keeping us involved in the characters to the very end. One can argue the merits of cross gender casting but in the end it has little to do with the performance’s success, instead the show stands on its performances and a strong script that is extremely engaging.
Finishing up WSC’s season in rep with Two Headed, The Children’s Hour is the story of Mary, a spoiled brat, who decides to destroy a girls school and its head mistresses using scathing innuendo. The characters, though dated, hold up well and one can draw parallels from today’s political headlines. A superb cast with the afore mentioned Christopher Henley and Jay Hardee along with Suzanne Richards, William Aitken, elisha eftua bartels, Jan Boulet, Dana Edwards, Annie Houston, Cam Magee and Abby Wood provide solid performances for Mr. Gable. Cam Magee is solid and shows great depth of character as Karen and Suzanne Richard brings energy and animation to her role as Lily.
Simple but pleasing staging ensures the play’s wonderful script is always at the forefront. The Children’s Hour is a multi textured, complex show and reminds us constantly that that a single lie can wreck much havoc under the best of conditions. Christopher Henley’s progressive vision for WSC keeps this Washington Theatre institution rooted in solid theatrical choices that challenge us and have us question the status quo. The Children’s Hour only reinforces that footing and sets the stage for what can only be greater things to come.