Serving up a “meaty” show at a community theater can be a gamble. Bread-and-butter audiences that were fed the standard buffet of Neil Simon and Agatha Christie can easily get upset stomachs on “spicier” dishes. Well-grazed theater snobs, however, might feel equally shorted and demand more pepper on their plates.
But such shows create a balanced diet of theater. Kudos go to Lakewood Playhouse for putting “Children’s Hour” on the menu this season. It is the theater’s T-bone steak of the season. And it is filling.
Written by Lillian Hellman, the show is loosely based on actual events. Two women, Karen Wright (played by Maggie Lofquist) and Martha Dobie (Deya Ozburn) graduated college together and are running a girls-only boarding school that is finally on the verge of turning a profit. Wright has delayed her marriage to Dr. Joseph Cardin (Paul Richter) to concentrate on the school operations.
But the work is for not as the school and their lives fall apart when one of the students, Mary Tilford (Kira Zinck) begins an avalanche by piecing together a lie by twisting words and making threats. It is sort of a Salem witch trial moment in many respects because the women have little defense against the accusations once they are made.
Clearly there must be some truth to the charges, people believe, since there is no evidence to disprove them. Accused women in Salem who proved they were not witches by “passing” the dunk tests by drowning, were still just as dead as those who survived only to be hanged as witches. Such is the issue with Wright and Dobie as they battle the best they can to prove a negative. The damage is too great to overcome, however, so they fail. The truth only comes out after all is lost. Innocence pays while the guilty walk free.
The play, directed by Artistic Director John Munn, takes its time to marinate. That flavors the meat. Clocking in at two hours and 15 minutes with two, 10-minute intermissions, things just sort of simmer and stew with spicy bits tossed in sporadically to create a complex dish of humanity gone awry once a rumor takes hold. Imagine grandma’s winter stew in theater form. That is this show. Prime cuts, properly seasoned, mixed with care and allowed to simmer. Lofquist, Ozburn and Zinck provide the base ingredients, but tasty bits by supporting roles make the play a full meal. The two-tiered scenery and lighting (by Judith Cullen) and costumes (Kelli McGowan) proved the effective broth with subtle tone changes as the story heats up. There is nothing flashy or dramatic. That would be like just tossing in some Lowery Seasoning on a hamburger. Nope. This show is all about nuanced progression.
The show contains adult situations and is not recommended for young children. Everyone else should feast. Dinners, I mean performances, are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays through Feb. 3. Tickets are $24, or $21 for military and students. Tickets or information are available at (253) 588-0042 or at www.LakewoodPlayhouse.org. The theater is located next to the Pierce Transit Center in the Lakewood Towne Center.