Natchez Little Theatre presents The Childrens Hour

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Natchez &8212; For playwright Lillian Hellman, &8220;The Children&8217;s Hour&8221; brought success and notoriety 70 years ago and set the course of a stellar career that would continue for decades.

First produced in New York City in 1934, the show centers on a spoiled little girl who attacks her teachers through gossip. Hellman once said of the play, &8220;It&8217;s about the power of a lie.&8221;

&8220;The Children&8217;s Hour&8221; will be performed Jan. 26 through Jan. 29 at Natchez Little Theatre, with what director Layne Taylor calls &8220;a dream cast.&8221;

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Melinda Ballard, in the role of one of the maligned teachers, said the play is therapy for her. &8220;Plus, with Layne, he has a way of getting out of one what they don&8217;t even know they have in them. I completely trust him as a director.&8221;

The children are central to the cast, in particular Marylee Williams, a seventh-grader at Trinity Episcopal Day School, who in the lead role of Mary Tilford, destroys lives.

A veteran of the NLT summer children&8217;s workshop and the summer performance, &8220;Bugsy Malone,&8221; as well as of &8220;The Natchez Christmas Carol,&8221; Williams said the role of Mary Tilford is &8220;really different. I&8217;m not used to being this mean to somebody, but this is all about trying something new.&8221;

Ballard said she is impressed with the children in the play.

&8220;They were the first ones off book; they helped to paint the sets. They have been great,&8221; she said.

Challenges were many and varied to get this show up and running, Taylor said. One was casting all the girls, who, in the play, are students at an exclusive girls school.

&8220;These are all middle to elementary in age. They are wonderful. They are brilliant,&8221; he said.

Another challenge was the set, designed by Tommy Jackson. The play requires a quick scene change &8212; difficult on a small stage, Jackson said.

&8220;I&8217;ve always wanted to do this play. The set works really well. It goes from the library to the home of the school teacher &8212; and very quickly,&8221; he said.

Deanne Tanksley, a Natchez CPA, plays the role of the other teacher who is the target of Mary Tilford&8217;s gossip. &8220;This is my first big role,&8221; she said. &8220;I enjoy getting to do something I don&8217;t ordinarily do and things totally out of character for me,&8221; she said.

New to Natchez, she has taken part in NLT productions before. &8220;Each one has been with a different group of people. It&8217;s been fun and a way to make new friends,&8221; Tanksley said.

She especially has enjoyed the children in the cast. &8220;As a person who has no children and who is not around them a lot, it&8217;s truly been a treat.&8221;

Longtime NLT performer Carolyn Yelverton returns to the stage in the role of Amanda Tilford, wealthy grandmother of the gossiping Mary.

&8220;Other than &8216;Southern Exposure&8217; this is my first play since the play &8216;Children,&8217;&8221; she said. That play was in the 1979-1980 season.

&8220;It&8217;s wonderful to have such a talented and experienced actress back on stage,&8221; Taylor said.

As the only man among the principal characters, John Ballard has his own challenges, he said.

A business manager for a group of six physicians, Ballard plays a physician in the show. &8220;My doctors are getting a kick out of that,&8221; he said.

He likes the role of Dr. Joseph Cardin, the fianc/ of Karen Wright, the role played by Tanksley.

&8220;I stand by my woman throughout the scandal until the very end, when I have a moment of doubt,&8221; he said.

The performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 26 to 28 and at 2 p.m. on Jan. 29 at the theater, 319 Linton Ave. A student matinee will be presented at noon on Jan. 25.

Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for those 60 and older and young people 18 and younger.

Tickets are available by calling the box office at 601-442-2233; or through the Web site,