When I took my seat in the center of the front row, I saw Tom O’Brien’s set of the living room of the Wright-Dobie School on an April afternoon, 1934.
Ross Valley Players’ present production, The Children’s Hour, has a cast of 16, many of them children. A woman who was rather famous for being unpopular wrote this, her first play, in 1934. The child actors have been double cast so each of the performances are different from the one before. Besides all that, the play’s title is misleading.
Pulling all these challenges together could only be accomplished by who else, a new director by the name of Neiry Rojo.
Rojo has appeared at the Barn Theater before in acting roles, but The Children’s Hour is her first directorial assignment. In it, Rojo explains that dramatist Lillian Hellman grapples with “communal agreements as to which interpretation of facts we will hold onto,” along with challenges from “the power of words.”
The Children’s Hour concerns the operations of a private school for girls and the school’s headmistresses and teachers, Martha Dobie and Karen Wright as they battle against lies started by one of the students, Mary Tilford. Angel-faced Mary not only has power among her peers, she has complete control over her doting and influential grandmother. Her lies-including one particularly scandalous for the time about Martha and Karen-have the power to damage the teachers’ reputations, break up Karen’s engagement and even close the school.Unfortunately, only the fiancee, Joe seems to recognize Mary’s capacity as terrorism.
Laura Peterson as Karen and Joanna Cretella as Martha depict the embattled teachers with a graceful sense of finality.
Elliott Hanson as Joe is the only male in the play, a young doctor increasingly squeezed between the demands of loyalty and his profession. Local favorite Tamar Cohn gives a sensitive portrayal of Mary’s betrayed grandmother. Rachel Kayhan takes up the part of flamboyant, disloyal, Mrs. Lily Mortar, a self-deceptive faculty member and relative. Michael Berg’s period costumes help establish the atmosphere.
By the end of the first act, when Joe is demanding to confront Mary-who is claiming a heart attack-the Barn’s full house was silent and spellbound. The second act, however changed direction. A number of actions that took place offstage after the intermission made the outcome seem contrived and unnatural. It almost seems if Hellman, with all of her many causes, had trouble choosing just one.
In Ross Valley’s production, two young actresses share the demanding role of Mary. On one performance, we see Chloe Wales’ chilling interpretation of the role. On alternate nights, Heather Davis has the part. Another talented double cast was Claire Fogarty as Mary’s blackmail victim, Rosalie, a part she shares with Alexandra Fry. Jordana Meltzer and Ruby Elizabeth Jobe also appear as classmates, along with coplayers, Loren Breidenbach and Maya Ezekiel. Additionally, Layla Snipes as Catherine and Emily Kalish as Lois compliment the cast.
Coming up next at Ross Valley Players is Dead Man’s Cellphone, March 1-25, 2018.
Flora Lynn Isaacson