'A show we need to do': McAuley student play tackles sexuality, bullying

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PORTLAND — The Catherine McAuley High School Limelighters know their one-act play is a bit edgy, especially for an all-girls Catholic school.

When they take the stage this weekend, the student actors will bring life to a story that grapples with sexuality, bullying and intense emotions.

They wouldn’t have it any other way.

The school will enter “The Children’s Hour” in the 81st Maine Drama Festival on March 9 and 10. They will perform a public preview Sunday, March 4, at 3 p.m., at McAuley. 

Lillian Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour,” which opened in 1934, was praised by New York critics – but banned in other cities, including Boston. The play is loosely based on a true story about a malicious student who accuses her teachers of being lesbians. Her lie causes catastrophic consequences for everyone involved.

Gabby Gochie, a McAuley senior and president of the Limelighters, said the 30 students involved in the production pushed for “The Children’s Hours,” despite some initial reservations from adviser Lynne Erkkinen. She said they knew tackling issues such as sexuality – particularly in a Catholic school setting – would be a challenge.

Gochie said the play also will help break stereotypes McAuley students regularly face, including the frequent question, “Are you a lesbian?” from people who find out where they go to school.

“It’s a show we need to do to break stereotypes about what a Catholic school can and can’t do,” she said.

Sophomore Julia Cornell said both the audience and cast can connect to the play.

“It just seems like everything in it could apply to now: the bullying, the lying, the lie it’s all created around,” she said.

Lulu Hawkes, a senior who portrays one of the teachers, said the play challenges each actor to move out of her comfort zone, both on and off stage. She said the play tells untold stories of many women and sheds light on issues like discrimination.

“I thought it was really brave of us to do a lesbian play because we’re an all-girls school,” she said.

Erkkinen said the play went through several “filters” before she made the final decision to stage the production. She talked with administrators, parents and the Sisters of Mercy, who all support the play.

Sophomore Rachael Dalton said while most people understand why they chose the play, all of her friends aren’t completely on board.

“They didn’t seem too thrilled, but I think it’s a risk worth taking,” she said.

Alex Dow, a freshman with two gay mothers, also believes the risk is worth taking.

“I think it’s about time we do something controversial because we’re strong enough as a cast to do this,” she said. “We’re very open to different religions and sexualities.”

Though the students “took the ball and ran with it,” Erkkinen said she still worries a bit about how they will deal with negative reactions.

“I’m concerned I’m asking this class to be brave,” she said. “They might get negative feedback they’re not used to getting.”

Cornell said she isn’t too worried about negative feedback.

“I’m sticking by this play because I think this needs to be out there,” she said. “It will be good for the community and our school. I’m proud we’re doing this.”

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or ggraham@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @grahamgillian.

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Catherine McAuley High School senior Lulu Hawkes, left, rehearses a scene from “The Children’s Hour” with Katie Neault. They play teachers accused of being lesbian loves in a production that was banned in Boston when it debuted in 1934.

Catherine McAuley High School students Katie Neault, left, and Julia Cornell rehearse a scene from “The Children’s Hour,” which they will enter in the Maine Drama Festival. Students said they like the challenge of putting on a play that deals with issues such as sexuality and bullying.

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