Theater Review: The Children's Hour

Tampa Rep’s revival shows us the timeless harm of willful slander.

click to enlarge PRETTY EVIL THING: Olivia Sargent plays a troublemaking tween in The Children’s Hour. - DESIREE FANTAL
DESIREE FANTAL
PRETTY EVIL THING: Olivia Sargent plays a troublemaking tween in The Children’s Hour.

The Children’s Hour
3 stars out of 5
Through Oct. 4 at the Smith Black Box Theatre, Tampa Preparatory School, 727 Cass St., Tampa, tamparep.org, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday; $20, $15 students/seniors/military.
An ostensible relic

In 1936, when producer Samuel Goldwyn made a movie based on Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour, lesbianism was considered so unspeakable a crime, the storyline of Hellman’s play had to be notably altered. In the original, a student falsely accuses two female teachers of being lovers; but in These Three, the Goldwyn/William Wyler film rewritten by Hellman herself, the young girl accuses one teacher of having an affair with her colleague’s male fiancé. Well, times change — a little. In 1962, when director Wyler took a second stab at filming Hellman’s play, the original plot was left in; but Wyler opined that “The lie has to have such a devastating effect that to be credible it must be appalling.” In other words, lesbianism, though now admissible in the cinema, had to be understood as horrific if the movie’s plot were to make sense. Everything depended on homosexuality being seen, in one gay activist’s words, as “pathological, predatory and dangerous.”