Town and Gown Players: The Children's Hour

I already wrote a little about 'The Children's Hour' starting this Friday at the Athens Community Theater. Now I've met the cast and seen how interesting this show is going to be. Basically, it involves a brat named Mary that doesn't like her boarding school, so she tells her grandmother that her teachers are lesbians.

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As you can imagine, this is quite troubling. You could say that people get out of sorts. You could say that parents yank their girls out of the school really fast, and I imagine that leaving town on splintery rails might be involved later in the show. It is all a devious lie that evil Mary comes up with. I don't know this story, so at least I think it's a lie. Yeah, it's a lie, because she is very manipulative, and she is almost caught in her lie at first, though she either cons her way out of it at a classmate's expense or at maybe just gets to tread water for a while.

The story is really about "the frightening tendency of innuendo to take on a life of its own," or at least the program will say so. It will be interesting to see where the story and its implications lead.

Now, let's get down to business. The set is a real piece of work and the cast is having a lot of fun. Chip Robeson explained to me that the whole production is based on viewpoints perspectives, and he tried to convince me that it wasn't "hippie" nonsense. He says the concept places a lot of emphasis on using space to strengthen the acting and promote communication with the audience. An actor can try different positions on stage to find one that offers the appropriate power for the scene. The space is carefully divided to use the intimate space near the front of the stage and the public space at the rear. Act II involves intimate dialogues and an intimate setting, so the rear wall of the set sits closer to the audience, and it is intended that the wall of the other acts is visible behind it to remind us of that public setting beyond.

Viewpoints perspectives also involve smell. Yes, a carefully crafted olfactory performance is included in the show! Aromatic oils will be dispersed in the air to enhance the scenes. Chip kept some of the scents a secret for now, but I did smell burning wood when a fireplace appeared during rehearsal.

Katie Benfield is directing, and she learned about the viewpoints perspectives from the Broadway director that promoted the concept. Julia Wilson is the assistant director.

Rebecca Douglas brings us the most wicked Mary possible. This schoolgirl is like the worst conniving brat you've ever known. Rebecca can probably transfer some of her real-life sarcasm and withering wit to this character. She can also try to run me down with a bus if I write anything bad about her.

Jessica Royals plays Martha Dobie as an earnest and innocent young teacher with a fear of abandonment by her teaching partner, who is engaged to be married, and that concern is replaced by a wrenching mix of anger, sadness, and fear when Mary's lie is recklessly broadcasted. Brooke Bender as Karen Wright shares those emotions with her friend after the lie, but until then she really acted like a teacher, which is kind of scary.

Joy Leathers as Amelia Tilford is probably like any of our own grandmothers, going from the warm, sweet granny at one moment to the stern grandmother at the next. I'll also mention Maggie Packer's role as Rosalie Wells, a classmate of Mary's, because this poor girl is completely frightened of Mary. Seeing her struggle against Mary's threats and manipulation and repeatedly caving in just makes us hate Mary so much more. Mary tries to get dirt on everyone so she can blackmail them later.

There will be seven performances on September 30 through October 2 and October 6 through October 9. Sundays will have matinees at 2 p.m., and all other shows will be at 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $5 to $12, and you should make reservations by calling (706) 208-TOWN. Visit the website of The Town and Gown Players to learn more, including how to order season tickets.

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