By Richard Pacheco
Lillian Hellman was one of the most significant women playwrights in American History. This work, “The Children’s Hour,” proved to be quite scandalous in 1934 when it was first produced, but seems tame and somewhat dated in contemporary times. It is a drama set in an all-girls boarding school run by two women, Karen Wright and Martha Dobie. An angry student, Mary Tilford, runs away from the school, and to avoid being sent back she tells her grandmother that the two headmistresses are having a lesbian affair.
The accusation proceeds to gather momentum and brings with it hoards of tragic implications and consequences each step, growing more serious and disastrous for all concerned, particularly the two women. While the underlying issues are the effects of lies and ever increasing devastation it brings without any supporting evidence, there is still the overtone of lesbianism that makes it seem dated. At the same time, the rampant intolerance seems most appropriate to today’s headlines which is so widespread today.
The Gamm production suffers from some performances that are not on the mark and also the directing at times misses getting the full emotional impact from the play. Madeleine Lambert is Karen Wright, one of the owners of the school. She is engaged and this accusation has an impact on that as well as her livelihood. She delivers a poised performance, honest and with emotional impact.Karen Carpenter is Martha Dobie, the other school owner. She seems to take a while to connect with her business partner, who’s too distant and unaffected by almost anything until the end. Yet there the impact is dulled due to a lack of emotional buildup.
Grace Viveiros is Mary, an extremely difficult child with a penchant for getting herself out of trouble, willing to go to extremes, no matter what the cost or devastation. She is manipulative, devious and unscrupulous to the nth degree. She delivers and intense and powerful performance of sheer evil and manipulation. Casey Seymour Kim, the somewhat distracted and offbeat aunt Lily, is at times too spastic and seems more just out of control ridiculous and a caricature. Wendy Overly as Mrs. Tilford is a wealthy and powerful woman who loves to meddle to suit her tastes and beliefs, and she enjoys showing off her influence and power. Overly is not exactly on target, seeming a bit distant and emotionally flat.
Benjamin Grills as Dr. Cardin is somewhat stiff and at times unconvincing. His crying later in the play is too false and unbelievable.Director Rachel Walshe cannot quite seem to get the play to deliver the kind of emotional impact it should with the horrific climax. It seems stilted, falling short of the emotional mark.
“The Children’s Hour” runs through Feb. 12 at the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre, 172 Exchange St., Pawtucket. Tickets are $44-$52. Call (401) 723-4266, or visit gammtheatre.org.