Lillian Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour” will be the next production of the Idyllwild Arts Academy’s Theater Department. Written in 1934, Hellman’s play addresses a subject that still occupies news pages 80 years later.
Homosexuality, in this case lesbianism, is at the center of the plot just as same-sex marriage and gay rights are often found on page one of today’s newspapers.
The two headmistresses of a girls’ boarding school are accused of being lovers. A runaway student tells her grandmother this tale to avoid being returned to school.
The play focuses on how the falsehood ruins the women’s lives.
When the play debuted, it received critical success; yet the public was appalled, not only at the subject, but the use of a child who knew about and understood the sexual relationship.
“Calling it ‘indecent,’ Boston Mayor Frederick Mansfield banned Lillian Hellman’s first play from being staged in a decree issued on Dec. 14, 1935,” wrote Theatre Department Head Howard Shangraw.
Yet the play reveals the destructive nature of malicious lies. Shangraw added, “The meaning of the play has been debated endlessly over the years. Was Hellman writing about the intolerant society of the time with respect to what was then termed sexual misconduct, or was she writing a play about the consequences of telling a lie?
“We discussed this in rehearsal and it was the consensus of the cast that the second interpretation loomed larger in all our minds,” concluded Shangraw. “In this play, a little girl tells a lie and the impact on those around her and on the community is horrendous. Within one day, lives are turned upside down, plans go awry, dreams wither and die, and eventually relationships are permanently shattered.”
The director for this production is Margo Regan, an actress, director, teacher, coach and most recently a playwright. In the past 25 years she has been involved in more than 60 theatrical productions in one or more of these capacities.
“The Children’s Hour” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. both Friday and Saturday, April 11 and 12. A third performance is at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 13. All will be at the IAF Theatre on the Idyllwild Arts campus.