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Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

The Children's Hour Still Packs a Powerful Emotional Punch
EgoPo Classic Theater

Review by Rebecca Rendell

Also see Rebecca's reviews of Shipwrecked! An Entertainment and Metamorphoses


Cheryl Williams, Maggie Johnson, Keith Conallen, Jenna Horton, and Emilie Krause
Photo by Dave Sarrafian
Eighty years ago The Children's Hour was banned in Boston, Chicago, and London. The social taboos addressed in the play have moved at least partially into the mainstream, but The Children's Hour still offers meaningful insight into the harm caused when pervasive social biases are enforced and internalized. Yes, some of the language is dated and the pace lags at times, but The Children's Hour is still a gut-wrenching and surprisingly relevant cautionary tale.

Hellman's masterpiece centers around Mary (Maggie Johnson), a spoiled troublemaker who is perpetually in hot water with teachers at her small boarding school. Mary lashes out at her headmistress by accusing her of having a lesbian relationship with another teacher. The devastating effect of this accusation is a disturbing reminder of just how viciously intolerant of alternative lifestyles our society was just a few decades ago.

When The Children's Hour premiered on Broadway in 1934 any mention of homosexuality on stage was illegal in New York, and homosexuals were believed to be inherently dangerous to children. Attitudes have changed over time, but what Hellman shows us about cruel and baseless condemnation in the court of public opinion is more relevant than ever. The Children's Hour also provides the audience with valuable insight into how societal pressures and standards can become internalized. In the end this internalization—of the baseless accusations and harsh public judgments—does the greatest harm.

The EgoPo cast is excellent and under Adrienne Mackey's direction they conjure characters who are authentic and relatable. Jenna Horton plays Karen, the accused headmistress. Horton's performance is intense, conveying the anguish and frustration that transforms Karen during her ordeal. Emilie Krause gives a sharp and nuanced performance as Karen's friend and accused lover Martha. Cheryl Williams (Mrs. Tilford) and Mary Lee Bednarek (Mrs. Mortar) also give excellent performances, allowing the audience to empathize with characters that might otherwise seem merely sinister or self-absorbed. Williams conveys a sense of internal struggle as Mary's manipulated grandmother. Bednarek lends some needed levity to the production as Martha's actress-turned-elocution-instructor aunt, but also shows the vulnerability and self-pity that may begin to explain her atrocious behavior.

Mackey even brings out the humanity in the lying Mary. Eschewing the standard interpretation of Mary as a bad seed and likely sociopath, Mackey and Johnson provide a smart but frustrated pre-teen whose prevarications are born of frustration and embarrassment. It is an interesting choice, but it is difficult to believe this awkward sulking tween Mary could force her grandmother hand or make her classmates lie.

EgoPo's production of The Children's Hour runs through October 25, 2015, at The Latvian Society, 531 N. 7th Street. Tickets are available by phone at (267) 273-1414 or at www.egopo.org.

Cast:
Karen: Jenna Horton
Martha: Emilie Krause
Mrs. Tilford: Cheryl Williams*
Mrs. Mortar: Mary Lee Bednarek
Joe: Keith Conallen
Agatha: MaryRuth Stein
Mary: Maggie Johnson
Rosalie: Samia Merritt
Evelyn: Katie Verde
Lois: Twoey Truong
Peggy: Rebekah Sharp
Helen: Francesca Piccioni
Catherine: Kishia Nixon
Grocery Boy: John Schultz

Production Team:
Director - Adrienne Mackey
Scenic Designer - Marketa Fantova
Lighting Designer - Maria Shaplin
Sound Designer - Joshua Boden
Costumer - Jill Keys
Props Master - Sara Outing
Stage Manager - Samantha Wend


-- Rebecca Rendell


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