The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman addresses the insidious power of a lie in a riveting drama opening at the Street Theatre on September 6.
When a student at an all-girl’s boarding school perceives she is being treated unfairly by the women who run the school, she fabricates a malicious lie about them that pushes relationships to the brink, tests assumptions, and challenges preconceived notions of the truth.
Written in 1934, The Children’s Hour was inspired by a true story involving two Scottish teachers, and was very controversial in its day due to its content about the subject of homosexuality (taboo at the time). But make no mistake: the show is just as relevant today and will surely leave audiences talking and thinking about how rumors can still be damaging—addressing the devastating effects that lies and gossip can have on our lives.
Karen Wright and Martha Dobie run the boarding school, funded partially by the grandmother of one of their students, Mary Tilford. Mary becomes angry and runs away from the school. To avoid being sent back, she tells her grandmother that the two headmistresses are having a lesbian affair. The accusation proceeds to destroy the women’s careers, relationships and lives.
This was Hellman’s first hit play. At the time, any mention of homosexuality on stage was illegal in New York state, but the play was such a success and so widely praised by critics that the subject matter was overlooked. After the play was banned in Boston, Chicago, and London, it opened in Paris, retitled Les Innocents (The Innocents), to popular review.
In 1936, the play was made into a film directed by William Wyler. However, because of the Production Code, the story was adapted into a heterosexual love triangle, the controversial name of the play was changed, and the movie was eventually released as These Three. Hellman reportedly worked on the screenplay (virtually all of the play’s original dialogue was kept) and she was satisfied with the result, saying the play’s central theme of gossip was unaffected by the changes.
In 1952, a revival and revised stage production was also construed as an implied criticism of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
In 1961, the play was adapted, with its lesbian theme intact, for the film The Children’s Hour, also directed by Wyler. This is the version that most think of as the ‘original’ The Children’s Hour today.
Street Theatre’s The Children’s Hour is directed by Cathy Street, artistic director/founder, and features live underscoring by Rollie Mains. The cast includes: Terra Buschmann, Jaime Janiszewski, John Mauldin, Deanna Glasser, and introduces Haley Covington as 13-year-old Mary Tilford.
The Children’s Hour runs September 6-22 with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 5 pm. Tickets are $18 for adults and $16 for students and seniors. Group rates are available. For special events during the run and to purchase tickets, visit www.streettheatrecompany.org
Performances are at Street Theatre, 1933 Elm Hill Pike, just off Briley Parkway. For more information, call 615-554-7414.