Loudoun Valley High School
A puppet master deftly pulls the strings, deliberately exploiting every weakness, turning the world against those she despises. The world revolves around her as she molds it into nightmare of her own design. Such is Mary Tilford, the disturbed child who orchestrates the entire plot of McLean High School’s riveting production of The Children’s Hour.
This play chronicles the lives of two women when Mary Tilford, one of their students, spreads a rumor that they have been engaged in a lesbian affair. More powerful than she could ever imagine, Mary’s lie rips apart their lives and destroys their careers, relationships, and futures.
Mary Tilford (Rachel Kulp) had remarkable dexterity on the stage. She first introduced the audience to her sickly-sweet outside, but minutes later exposed her rotten core. Kulp further accentuated her manipulative nature as she aggressively bullied her friends into submission. Peggy Rogers (Carenna Slotkoff) and Evelyn Munn (Ariana Colder), two of her “friends” endlessly victimized by her antics, were the picture of schoolgirl innocence.
Martha Dobie (Jordan Prather) and Karen Wright’s (Anna Kate Womack) virtuous friendship shattered in the wake of their alleged affair. Prather cracked under the pressure, admitting her feelings for Womack’s character in a gut-wrenching monologue. Womack evolved from being stern but fair to numbly watching her life fall apart. She took advantage of the power of silence, giving simple motions and plaintive stares endless meaning.
The authenticity of the self-recorded sound effects further immersed the audience into the play. The use of backstage speakers to simulate the sounds of the doorbell and the school bell added another level of realism. Every set decoration and prop was carefully thought out and brought a new dimension to the time period and the plot line. The dollhouse, an exact replica of the set, served as an excellent vessel to show Mary’s cruel intentions and ultimate control over the lives of everyone around her. Vintage photographs of the cast tied the play together perfectly.
The major transitions in the first act were punctuated by intense lighting. The opening sequence set a dark tone for the show, while the isolated lighting of Mary during transitions transformed her into a tortured silhouette, showing the instability of her mind and her devious intentions. The original music that accompanied these transitions utilized a children’s lullaby full of bass undertones and minor chords, hinting at the corruption of innocent minds in the hands of a child.
The revolving set and the revolving dollhouse both complemented each other and further emphasized that inability of Martha and Karen to escape the influence of Mary. The decision to make the schoolhouse set triangulate in the center made the actors appear that they were standing on a precipice, on the brink of their own demise.
The costuming and makeup impeccably complemented the 1930’s period of the show. The immense contrast between Martha and Karen’s bright costumes in Act 1/Act 2 and muted outfits Act 3 gave the entire third act a feeling of solemnity.
One of the most impressive decisions of the marketing team was to partner their efforts with Sources of Strength, a program dedicated to raising awareness about mental illness. This related the show to contemporary audiences and brought to light some important issues in the play and in the world around us.
Mclean High School’s interpretation of The Children’s Hour was a testament to the power of a child and a few whispered words.
Albert Einstein High School
Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words will never harm you; or so the saying goes. Phenomenal performances from the cast, aided by a creative technical element, made a convincing case against this claim in McLean High School’s fiery and exhilarating production of The Children’s Hour.
The 1934 play by Lillian Hellman details the events of an all-female boarding school, where a troublemaking student trying to escape begins spreading a rumor that two of the teachers are in a lesbian relationship, leading to disastrous consequences. The success of the play has led to two film adaptations: one in 1936 under the title “These Three”, and a more popular remake in 1961 starring Audrey Hepburn.
The dramatic acting performances were exceptional. The Children’s Hour is not a “fun” play. It features minimal comedy and takes the plot in very intense directions. McLean’s well rounded cast tackled the serious topics addressed in the play with a maturity and commitment that sucked the audience into the heated dialogue. Jordan Prather (Martha Dobie) and Anna Kate Womack (Karen Wright) anchored the show as the two scandalized teachers. These lead actresses were measured and brilliant in their ability to convey the slow destruction of their social and psychological stability from beginning to end.
Rachel Kulp was laudable as Mary Tilford, the selfish little catalyst for everything that goes wrong in the story. Her ability to switch back and forth between the innocent victim and the menacing control freak was realistic and chilling. Throughout the entire play, including the moments where she was entirely offstage, her presence could be felt, as if she was still pulling the strings somehow.
Every member of the cast was extremely well equipped for the acting challenges presented by the show’s brutal script. There were instances where the physicality of the actors seemed slightly out of place, but most of the show displayed an absolutely top notch, professional level of competence in handling the tension of the conflicts. It also helped that every line of dialogue could be heard clearly, thanks to the efforts of a seemingly flawless sound crew.
Although the piece does not naturally lend itself to being technically impressive, the crew of McLean High School made creative choices with the lighting, set changes and sound that greatly contributed to the show’s tone and motifs. The technical elements of the show, especially the original music, were so impactful and memorable that they felt somewhat underused in some respects. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant surprise to see them.
Performances like these make it near impossible to doubt the potential of high school theatre to be more than just amateur entertainment. McLean High School’s production of The Children’s Hour was just about as eerie, captivating, and meaningful of an experience as one could expect from a theatre company of any level.