Mary Tilford is a perfectly vile little girl. There, I’ve said it, and I hereby encourage you to say it, too. We’re not supposed to despise 9-year-olds, of course, but Lillian Hellman gives us permission, in The Children’s Hour, to loathe the mean-spirited, self-serving brat who sets the plot’s tragic confrontations in motion. She’s a savvy, spoiled creature so convinced that everyone’s her enemy that she’ll seize any opportunity to undermine them—whether with a skewed half-truth or an outright lie. (Sound like any political shark we know?) Specifically, Mary (Mollie Clement) lashes out at the boarding-school teachers who discipline her with the accusation that their closeness has the whiff of the “unnatural”—and backs up the claim with invented details gleaned from the French novels she’s secretly been reading. The charge, leveled in small-town America circa 1934, destroys one marriage, one conscience, and one life—Hellman insists, bracingly, that in a viciously judgmental society the truth won’t necessarily set anybody free—and if nothing else, Kathi Gollwitzer’s staging for Firebelly Productions reminds us that the stakes are always too high when those with access to power play games with people’s lives. Rough edges are to be expected from a company whose mission centers on young actors, and rough edges there certainly are. But there’s the nicely modulated performance of Heather Sanderson as the wealthy grandmother whose shortsighted indulgence and protective instincts give Rove—er, Mary—the shelter from which to strike. There’s the haunted Martha Dobie of Ali Miller, an interesting young performer with hints of what might become a delicate actorly sensibility, and the game professional debut of Christian Gearhart as the young doctor, engaged to Martha’s co-accused, who tries hard to be humane about it all. And there’s Wendy Wilmer’s amusingly outsize spinster aunt, who’s every inch as preposterously irritating as she’s meant to be, if not quite as understandably fearful and vulnerable. As for the small herd of pre-adolescents onstage—well, there’s not a single Dakota Fanning among ’em, but I suppose Gollwitzer ought to be commended just for having wrangled them into something shaped roughly like drama. —Trey Graham