Leah Cohen, Natalie Koch, & Ian Diakov in The Children’s Hour. Photo:CTC

The Children’s Hour

By Lillian Hellman
Directed by Jess De La Rosa

A review by Brian Kennedy

Entire contents are copyright © 2021 by Brian Kennedy. All rights reserved.

The Children’s Hour, under Jess De La Rosa outstanding direction, deals with the reaction and fallout at a 1930s all-girls boarding school when two headmistresses, longtime friends Karen (Natalie Koch) and Martha (Leah Cohen) are accused of being lovers. Mary (Sophia Retone), a student known for her troublemaking and lying ways, was the one making the accusations. 

The pacing of the entire play was mostly on point, especially in the first act. It  begins with the appropriate amount of fast-paced energy. Lines were delivered with intention without any hesitation or anyone jumping on someone else’s line. The cast’s variations in voice, pitch, and movement allowed characters to immediately become distinct and memorable. This is quite a feat considering the entire cast, with a few momentary exceptions, wore face coverings throughout the play.

Of particular note was Retone’s superb portrayal of Mary. Retone took over the stage in all of her scenes. She deliberately overreacted when faking pain to, depending on the viewpoint, hilarious or annoying effect. She was cutthroat, manipulating or controlling everyone from the other school girls to her own grandmother. Her reactions when others questioned Mary’s seemingly nonstop lies or intentions were spot on. Retone made the perfect antagonist out of Mary. 

In the second act, there were so many levels of emotion and thought from the fallout of the accusations, and the cast, especially Koch as Karen, Cohen as Martha, Meg Caudill as Amelia Tilford, Mary’s grandmother, and Bryce Abell as Lily, a teacher at the school, exquisitely explored those levels. They made the audience feel, or at least understand, their widely varying points of view and the feelings behind them. The minor exception was Ian Diakov as Dr. Joseph Cardin, Karen’s fiance, who was adequate in these scenes but could have added more range in voice and tone to reach greater emotional depths. 

The Children’s Hour is a wonderfully written and performed play. Make no mistake about it, though, this is sometimes a challenging play and its themes certainly relate to current issues. Sometimes, however, the most compelling theatre falls along uncomfortable lines, and the Commonwealth Theatre cast and director handled that task beautifully.

The Children’s Hour

October 7 –  24, 2021

Commonwealth Theatre Center
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204

Brian Kennedy is a nearly life-long Louisville resident who has performed in plays since 2004. He also wrote extensively about the Louisville theatre scene for Louisville.com and Examiner.com from 2009-2015. Currently, he maintains the theatre blog LouBriantheater. When not involved in the theatre scene, he is an avid runner, participating in 5Ks throughout the state and in southern Indiana.