All College Theater (ACT) brought Lillian Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour” to life in Kendall’s Black Box Theater for a five-day run. The play addresses issues of love, friendship, homosexuality, class, adolescence and gossip.
ACT’s performance was wrought with subtle yet powerful acting and gripping tension. Honor Friberg and Kim Cox starred as two teachers at an all-girls’ school during the 1930s in New England, who are accused of being lesbians. Friberg’s portrayal of Karen Wright displays the stern compassion of a good teacher, while maintaining an underlying love for education and life.
Friberg is particularly adept at switching emotional modes quickly as the plot demands. One minute she’s fully in love with her fianc? Joe, played by Kevin Bailey. The next, she’s indignant with anger and bewilderment.
Cox’s character, the fiery Martha Dobie, walks the fine line between bitter sarcasm and sympathetic frustration. Cox’s portrayal of the no-holds-barred, speak-your-mind Martha was dead on, allowing her full-body acting to shine.
The non-verbal acting from all the members of the cast was amazing. In a show that’s just as much about what can’t be said openly as it is about what’s pushed into one’s face, the cast did an incredible job of communicating inner turmoil. From facial expressions to hand gestures to body language, their physical acting was on key.
Bailey did a particularly excellent job with the character of Joe, the classic American icon of the sweet country doctor. Augmenting his walk to fit the part and adding what seemed to be an extra sparkle in his eye, Bailey referenced a feeling from another time.
Jessica Job, as the devilish Mary Tilford – who starts the lesbian rumor and uses her powerful grandmother to wreak havoc on Martha and Karen’s lives – did a spectacular job with interpreting the conniving, intimidating, two-faced Mary. The internal conflict conveyed in Job’s face as she harassed and extorted the other girls in the school presented a stark contrast to the sweet, childlike innocence of her grandmother (Melissa Silver). This portrayal perfectly countered Rosalie Wells (Jessica Laynor), another of Mary’s helpless victims.
While most of the play was verbal and situational, there was one scene of physical violence in which Mary fights with Peggy Rodgers (Lauren Cugliotta), pulling her hair and slamming her head into a chair.
Mary also slaps Evelyn Munn (Angela Sytko) who tries to break up the fight. The rising tension in the scene building up to the attack was well interpreted and well paced by the actresses. It left the audience feeling like it was about to watch a train wreck.
The scene, which ended Act I, left the audience in shock at Mary’s violent nature and the vulnerability of the other characters, who were bewildered at the sudden outburst.
In a play where there are so many seemingly similar characters – three teachers and a school full of young girls, – the ensemble cast did a spectacular job of differentiating one character from another. Each girl’s personality developed individually, which is a real accomplishment and credit to ACT’s impressive talent pool.
After the success of “The Children’s Hour,” ACT will be hosting a murder mystery later on this month to close out their season.