On May 10, the Oakland Center for the Arts opens the classic drama The Children’s Hour. Written by Lillian Hellman in 1934, this chilling story of how a young girl’s vindictive manipulations can ruin lives will resonate with today’s audiences. Cleric Costes will direct the Oakland production, assisted by Kristopher Ray North. Stephanie Sarrach is stage manager.
The Children’s Hour takes a close look into the world of a Massachusetts farm turned girls’ school where gossip, blackmail, jealousy, lies, and bullying lead to dire consequences when two teachers are accused of having a sexual affair. Because any mention of homosexuality was illegal on a New York Stage at the time Hellman wrote The Children’s Hour, the story is told through subtle dialogue and implication, which adds to its dark intrigue.
To capture these themes, Costes chose to use a minimalistic set done entirely in black and gray tones and sparsely furnished. The cast is costumed in black, white, and gray, making this Hellman classic into an updated mood piece. Costes said, “stripping away all the usual theatrical trappings and shifting the play from a realistic approach to a Brechtian style enlightens the internal motivations of the characters. It also pushes the audience to narrow its focus on the actors’ actions and reactions. Nothing gets missed. ”
Mary M. James and Victoria Lubonovich take on the lead roles of the accused teachers, Martha Dobie and Karen Wright. Dana Dunnavant plays the loving but imposing Mrs. Tilford, and Miranda Canacci portrays her scheming and vengeful grandaughter, Mary. Leigh Cox, Brandon Smith, Tricia Terlesky round out the adult roles in the cast. The girls include Chloe Housteau, Madison Gulfo, Hannah Nitzsky, Jansen Hykes, Selena Phillips, Sierra Smith, and Elsie Kibler.