Skippack’s CHILDREN’S HOUR Is Gripping Emotional Roller Coaster

by Jean Brenner

Seated L-R: Elizabeth Hennessey, Cassie Van Druff; Standing L-R: Heather Reese, John Bell, Suzanne Pedersen, Nikki Johns in THE CHILDREN'S HOUR.

Talking about homosexuality in 1934 was taboo, and has been for many years thereafter. That is why Lillian Hellman’s THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, a play set in the early 1930’s, raised such a ruckus when Hellman’s play was first performed 1934 when she was only 29 years old.

In fact, while the play was successful on Broadway, it was banned from being performed in some major theatres, considered too scandalous even to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

Actually, it is courageous of Playcrafters to produce this play…not because of the subject matter, but because it is a dark tragedy, hardly the typical light summer theatre fare.

In order for it to be successful, THE CHILDREN’S HOUR requires every actor in the production to be outstanding. That includes seven children of middle-school age.

Director Marianne Green was more than successful and remarkable in casting and staging this show as she guided the characters’ emotional roller coaster ride. The pace she set and the intensity with which the scenes played are excellent. Emotions and relationships are grippingly appropriate; the set is outstanding and costumes reflect professional knowledge and selection; lighting is as it should be.

Elizabeth Hennessey and Heather Reese play the two leads — women who have been long time friends, who roomed together in college and later fulfilled their dream by founding The Wright-Dobie successful girl’s school in New England. Both these actresses are excellent in their roles…happy and optimistic in the beginning…devastatingly discouraged in the end.

It’s difficult to know which major performer to mention next because all of them were so fine, but I think it is important to talk about Mary, played by Nikki Johns, an 11 or 12 year old young lady, just about to enter middle school.

Nikki Johns and Suzanne Pedersen in a scene from Playcrafters' THE CHILDREN'S HOUR, running in Skippack, PA through June 16.

Mary is the “bad seed” of the school, presenting challenges for her instructors and making life miserable for her fellow students as she bullies them into doing whatever she wants, including forcing them to lie on her behalf. Mary is the “gang” leader, spoiled badly by her doting grandmother to whom she runs when she wants sympathy.

This reviewer doesn’t know how well Johns performed in her earlier school roles, but she was believably good in this one, a nasty bad girl performing well in a demanding role.

John Bell portrayed Dr. Joe Cardin, Karen’s fiancé. He is tall, handsome, devoted to Karen, and staunch in his performance, demonstrating loyalty while subtly revealing internal conflict of potential doubts as the story unfolds.
Suzanne Pedersen is quite believable as Dr. Joe’s dowager aunt, Mrs. Tilford and Mary’s grandmother. She is the school’s rich benefactor who dotes on her family, especially her granddaughter to the exclusion of nearly everything else.

No stranger to the stage is Lauren Rozensky Flanagan as Martha’s Aunt Lily, an aging actress whose accusations to her niece about the headmistresses’ questionable relationships are overheard by the schoolgirls and reported to Mary, thereby starting a series of Crucible-like events that lead to a tragic ending.

Flanagan is annoyingly good as the self-centered, self-absorbed aunt who cares more about herself than her niece, refusing to return to testify at her niece’s trial.

Sue Kuhl is capable and amusing in her role of Agatha, Mrs. Tilford’s housekeeper. She sees right through Mary, clearly finding the girl to be annoying.

L-R: Elizabeth Hennessey, John Bell, Heather Reese star in THE CHILDREN'S HOUR at Playcrafters of Skippack.

All of the girls did a terrific job, including Rosalie whom Mary bullies the most, making Rosalie confirm lies Mary tells about things that were said and done by the two headmistresses of the school. It is those lies which precipitate the downfall leading to tragedy.

Cassie Van Druff plays Rosalie with believable sweetness and shyness, allowing herself to be intimidated by Mary.

This play will move you. It will make you angry. It will make you sad. Most of all, it will make you say, “This performance is well-worth seeing!”

by Lillian Hellman
Directed by Marianne Green
May 31-June 16, 2012
Playcrafters of Skippack
2011 Store Rd. (Just off Skippack Pike )
Skippack, PA

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