Southeast Missouri State University students bring "The Children's Hour" to the stage

Friday, November 6, 2009
Southeast Missouri State University students Suzanne Burke, left, and Lindsay Prawitz perform a scene from "The Children's Hour." The show runs Wednesday through Nov. 15 at the River Campus. (Submitted photo)

A classic play from the historically controversial American playwright Lillian Hellman will be the second full-length performance to feature the talent of Southeast Missouri State University actors this season, following the musical "Little Shop of Horrors."

"The Children's Hour" will open Wednesday in the Rust Flexible Theater. The show runs through Nov. 15.

Written in 1934 and set in the same period, the story chronicles a scandal at an all-girls school wherein the students' gossip and lies force the school to close and destroy the personal lives of the well-intentioned headmasters.

Dr. Robert Dillon Jr., a theater and dance professor at Southeast, is taking his first turn at directing a Hellman script.

"Everyone's always a little put off at first when they read it, because it sounds like something you should be studying in literature classes," Dillon said.

However, he said the play is an American classic with an important lesson to teach and a history of censorship.

"The play is about morality and lying, and the damage it does to lie to yourself or have lies told about you," Dillon said.

He said his student cast has so far done a marvelous job handling the adult subject matter and are approaching it seriously. The material hints at lesbianism among characters, which Dillon said was a little too risque for the 1930s.

"The subject matter itself was originally against some pressure by censors, but in terms of today, it's pretty tame. There's no violence or bad language," Dillon said. "The main characters are being handled well by actors who are mature. The audience should be looking forward to a dramatic and insightful evening, but they won't leave feeling ground down."

Dillon said he views the play as dark, but not nearly as dark as a traditional tragedy.

Over the years the play was written into several different forms to suit what was deemed proper for audiences. Several versions were changed so that main characters were involved in heterosexual love triangles to avoid the backlash associated with the ideas of homosexuality.

Dillon said he is glad to be directing the play with Hellman's original script, because it will be performed as she intended.

"I love her writing and her life story," he said. "She's a brilliant playwright."

The play will also mark the first serious production written in the period that Dillon has directed.

Performances are scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Nov. 14, with a show at 2 p.m. Nov. 15. Tickets are $13 available at the River Campus box office or through MetroTix outlets.

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