Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Review - The Children's Hour (Astoria Performing Arts Center)

There's Something About Mary
Review by Brian Stryker
Photo by Jen Maufrais Kelly

That lesbian play.

For years that has been my only point of reference for Lillian Hellman’s melodrama, The Children’s Hour. For many, that is the only point of reference that some have for Hellman’s work. Controversial since it’s 1934 debut, it was disqualified from Pulitzer Prize contention when the head of the committee refused to see a play involving an alleged love affair between two women. In reality, the play focuses more on the power of professional destruction it may bring. The Astoria Performing Arts Center’s production clearly brings forth Hellman’s true intent.

Karen Wright (Emily Dorsch) and Martha Dobie (Carmel Javaher) are the co-owners of a private boarding school for girls. Martha’s Aunt Lily (Jacqueline Sydney) is an aging actress who teaches drama and elocution to their pupils – including Mary Tilford (Lauren Marcus), a notorious troublemaker who takes pleasure in bullying her fellow classmates both physically and psychologically.

When Mary gets caught in a lie, Karen punishes her by not allowing her attend the weekend’s boat races. Believing that she is the continual victim of unfair treatment by her headmistresses, Mary runs away to her grandmother, Amelia Tilford (Charlotte Hampden), to whom she weaves a tale of Martha and Karen being involved in something more than a Boston marriage. Amelia begins calling the parents of Mary’s classmates which results in the school’s population being decimated in the course of a few hours. Of particular consequence to this accusation is Karen’s engagement to local doctor Joe Cardin (G.R. Johnson) who is related to Amelia and Mary. Desperate to keep the deception alive, Mary blackmails fellow student Rosalie to corroborate her version of events or she will reveal Rosalie’s theft of a classmate’s bracelet.

Martha and Karen, with Joe’s support, file suit against the Tilford's for slander, but lose their suit, and ultimately, their school and reputation within the community. Despite Joe’s insistence that he believes her to be innocent of the accusation, Karen opts to end their engagement as, in her words, things will never be the same between them. When Martha learns of their breakup, the guilt of her own feelings toward Karen overwhelms her; she is terrified that she may actually love Karen in more than a platonic way. Karen dismisses Martha's outburst as being brought on by stress and a lack of sleep, urging her to get some rest. the distraught Martha bids her goodnight and seconds later takes her own life. When Amelia Tilford arrives later that evening to announce that Mary has renounced her lies, it truly is a case of “too little, too late.” The lie has led to three lives being destroyed.

Director Jessi D. Hill immediately sets the tone of the play when the ensemble joyfully runs through the audience on their way to Aunt Lily’s elocution class. As the cast bounds onto the stage, Lauren Marcus’ Mary literally turns her nose up and marches back through the audience. Without saying a word, Marcus grabs your attention. Yes, there’s something about Mary and Marcus does not fail to deliver. The stern look, the clenched jaw, the well played histrionics – all combined leaves an indelible mark. The double casting of Marcus as a delivery boy in the third act only reinforces the lingering effects of Mary’s deception.

The pairing of Emily Dorsch’s Karen and Carmel Javaher’s Martha is a brilliant juxtaposition. While they maybe tempted to portray the women as hyper-intellectual or overly sophisticated for the era, both actors have clearly delved into their characters’ backgrounds – Dorsch’s Karen a delight of grace and eloquence even in the face of dishonor; Javaher’s Martha a mixture of sarcasm and emotions as she slowly comes to term with her true feelings as the events unfold around her. The yin and yang approach to the Wright-Dobie pairing both humanizes the women and makes their ultimate demise that much more heartbreaking to watch.

Charlotte Hampden’s Amelia Tilford perfectly embodies the narrow mindedness of the era. Such accusations were never spoken in public or whispered behind closed doors. The look of abject horror as Mary spins her tale combined with the confusion as she ponders what she should do with her new found information.

Amongst the ensemble cast, Emily Kratter, Katherine Folk-Sullivan, and Lydia Woods are particularly noteworthy as three of Mary’s terrorized classmates who subject themselves to Mary’s demands out of fear of her reprisals.

The only sour note of the production was the overly long and quite unnecessary scene change prior to intermission that took the power from the act’s closing moments. Why destroy the impact with a scene change when it could have been performed during the intermission?

The Children’s Hour concludes APAC's 8th season.

The Children's Hour
Written by Lillian Hellman
Directed by Jessi D. Hill
Set Design: Caleb Levengood
Costume Design: Emily Morgan DeAngelis
Lighting Design: Gina Scherr
Sound Design: David A. Thomas
Original Composition: Greg A. Hennigan
Choreography: Tiffany Rachelle Stewart
Casting Director: Scott Wojcik and Gayle Seay/Wojcik Seay Casting
Press Representative: Katie Rosin/Kampfire Films PR
Production Stage Manager: Bonnie Hilton
Props Master/Assistant Set Design: Courteney Drakos
Season Production Manager: Jen Soloway
Technical Director: Patrick T. Cecala II
Assistant Stage Manager: Greg LoProto
Assistant Costume Designer: Whitney Adams
Fight Choreographer: G.R. Johnson
Fight Captain: Greg LoProto
Assistant Production Manager: Anthony Argento
Program Designer: Sylvija Ozols
Graphic Designer: Dan McMahon
Production Photographer: Jen Maufrais Kelly
Box Office Manager: Taryn Drongowski
Casting Intern: Brooke Mori
Build Crew: Raphael Hurtado, Mark Kajtazi, Brian Rutigliano, Richard Todorov, Chris Vaca

Featuring: Lydia Woods (Peggy Rogers), Gwen Ellis (Catherine), Dani Cervone (Lois Fisher), Jacqueline Sydney (Mrs. Lily Mortar), Katherine Folk-Sullivan (Evelyn Munn), Elisa Pupko (Helen Burton), Emily Kratter (Rosalie Wells), Kristin Parker (Janet), Julia Leffler (Leslie), Lauren Marcus (Mary Tilford), Emily Dorsch (Karen Wright), Carmel Javaher (Martha Dobie), G.R. Johnson (Doctor Joseph Cardin), Getchie Argetsinger (Agatha), Charlotte Hampden (Mrs. Amelia Tilford)

Good Shepherd United Methodist Church
30-44 Crescent St.
Astoria, Queens

May 23–June 7
Thu.–Sat., 8 PM; Sun., 6 PM

For ticket information: (866) 811-4111 or http://www.apacny.org/

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