Spotlight Theater’s ‘The Children’s Hour’ deals with gossip
By Annie Alleman November 7, 2012 1:55PM
Sarah Lynn Robinson (from left) portrays Karen Wright in Spotlight Theater's "The Children's Hour," which also stars Sara Toth as Mary Tilford and Diane Leo as Mrs. Lily Mortar. | Jeff Gamlin photo
‘THE CHILDREN’S HOUR’
◆ 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9-10 and 16-17 and 3 p.m. Nov. 11 and 18
◆ Spotlight Theater Studio, 22032 Howell Drive, New Lenox
◆ Tickets, $16 for general admission and $12 for seniors, students and New Lenox residents with identification
◆ (708) 941-8294;
Updated: December 10, 2012 6:06AM
In 1934, a play was written that was so controversial that it was banned from being performed in many cities including Chicago because of its subject matter.
Officials at Spotlight Theater in New Lenox have chosen that play, “The Children’s Hour,” to kick off its seventh season.
“The Children’s Hour” was written by Lillian Hellman and is directed by Brian Leo, of Mokena.
Performances will take place from Nov. 9-18 at Spotlight Theater Studio in New Lenox.
The show is produced by Jeff Gamlin, of Westmont, who is the artistic director and Spotlight’s cofounder.
The play is based on a true story from Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1810.
Two women who were longtime friends and schoolmates decide to start a school for girls.
Things were going well, but one can’t have that many children without there being a troublemaker.
And the troublemaker, unfortunately, is the granddaughter of the school’s biggest benefactor.
“Eventually, however, she had to be disciplined,” Leo said.
“And to get her revenge, the young lady told the grandmother that the two women were lesbian lovers.
“They weren’t, but this started a scandal and the wealthy old lady called her wealthy friends. They all removed their girls from the school immediately and the school collapsed.
“They sued her for slander, and it dragged through the courts for many years.”
The appellate court found for the two women and assessed damages against the lady, who simply never paid them.
“They chased her around for years and she just refused to pay. Their careers and reputations were ruined. One of the ladies just couldn’t take it anymore and hanged herself,” Leo said.
“This (show) was banned in 1934 simply because of the reference to lesbianism. It’s not a play about lesbianism; it’s a play about lying and gossip.”
Hollywood made two attempts at putting the play on the big screen. Both failed in his opinion.
The first completely left out the lesbian element, and the second gave it a happy ending.
Leo is setting the play in McCarthy-era 1950s not only because it works but because it’s easier to find costumes.
“I don’t think the story would have the same impact today because it’s not as scandalous today. But at the time, it ruined their lives,” Leo said.
He said he was challenged not only by the gravitas of the script but by the six child actors.
“Children are usually in musicals and comedies, not serious dramas,” Leo said. “It’s more of a challenge to get dramatic acting out of children. It’s a little daunting.”
The girls range in ages from 10-15 and struggle with the material because this kind of intolerance is blessedly unfamiliar to them, he said.
“My adult actors are magnificent. I couldn’t ask better for what I’m getting out of them,” Leo said.
When he interviewed for the directing job, he was asked what he wanted audiences to get from the production.
“I said, ‘I don’t believe that theater is worth doing unless it impacts the audience so they aren’t the same when they leave,’ ” Leo said.
“And you can’t help but examine your own conscience — what have you gossiped about, what lies have you told people, and what’s the ripple effect of them?
“It’s very sobering.”
Annie Alleman is a freelance writer.