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One tough act: Park actors take on play with serious issues

The actors in Park High School's one-act play had a difficult task: keeping their performance under 35 minutes to avoid disqualification in competition.

But the students said they faced an even bigger challenge in staging "The Children's Hour" by Lillian Hellman: convincingly portraying characters in a serious drama that takes on weighty social issues.

They were successful, by at least one measure. Park took first place last week in a sub-section competition of the state Once-Act Play Competition, sending the school to Section finals Wednesday, Feb. 2. If they win, they advance to the state competition.

The cast was working with a serious plot. "The Children's Hour," first performed in 1934, is the story of two women who run an all-girls boarding school. One woman is engaged to be married, the other single. A problem student, upset at being punished by the women, tells her grandmother that she witnessed the two female school leaders kiss, and the rumor is spread. The tale is false, but the play has a tragic surprise ending.

Park's student actors said the play was challenging, in part because of a compact rehearsal schedule but also because of the characters and issues involved.

Sylvia Lowry, who portrays the engaged school leader, said it was difficult to relate to the characters because they are older than the actors.

They took the roles - and the subject matter - seriously.

"It's such an intense play," said Lexi Kleinschmidt, who plays one of the school students.

"You're portraying someone's life," said Logan Greene, who plays the fiance to one of the women who runs the school.

Steve Estenson, who with Denise Atkinson directs Park's one-act play, chose "The Children's Hour" because this year's theater theme is American classics. He said Park typically alternates between dramas and comedies for the one-act play competition. Last year's performance featured strong male characters, and they wanted to feature strong female characters this year.

Estenson said the students took on "heavy issues" of same-sex relationships and the damage that can be caused by rumor or gossip spread out of revenge. The play is about 75 years old, but the themes are relevant today.

"You can pick controversial themes, as long as they aren't sensationalized," he said.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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