THE CHILDREN

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Written by Lucy Kirkwood

Directed by Robert McDonald

THE CHILDREN seems a curious title for a play in which the characters are all over 65. Perhaps playwright Lucy Kirkwood intends chose the name for the same reason Arthur Miller called his first great morality play ALL MY SONS. Kirkwood isn’t selling any religious agendas, but it’s a safe bet she’s familiar with Exodus 20:5, which states that sins of one generation are visited upon the next. With good reason, the 33-year-old playwright, though compassionate towards her elders, clearly isn’t pleased with the job the stewards of the earth have done so far.

In a farmhouse kitchen somewhere in rural England, two old friends reunite after decades apart. Nothing unusual there, but the conversation Hazel (Deborah Findlay) is having with Rose (Francesca Annis) isn’t limited to small talk.  There are repeated references to a disaster that has affected the area, and Hazel intuits that Rose’s sudden, unannounced visit isn’t just a social call. Then there’s the matter of the blood which has just spattered all over Rose’s blouse. She claims it’s from a nosebleed, but Hazel isn’t easily convinced. Further questions arise when Hazel’s husband Robin (Ron Cook) arrives home. He puts on a show as if he hasn’t seen the prodigal Rose for ages, but again, Hazel doesn’t buy it.  As tensions simmer and generous helpings of turnip wine are consumed, the veneer of British understatement begins to dissolve and grim details emerge about the nature of the recent calamity. Echoing 2011’s Fukushima Daiichi meltdown, the event in question involved nuclear power plant whose shoddy construction collapsed under the impact of an earthquake and a tidal wave. Homes are flooded, animals die from radiation, coastal towns have had to be evacuated. Unlike other survivors, Hazel, Rose and Robin can’t merely get on with their lives. After all, they’re the nuclear scientists who designed the plant all those years ago. And therein lies the ulterior motive behind Rose’s surprise visit. It’s all too much for Hazel. This woman has disrupted her daily routine, overflowed her toilet and slept with her husband. Hasn’t she done enough?  Yet someone has to take responsibility for the mistakes of the past, and when Robin reveals his own troubling secret, Hazel is forced to let go of her illusions and find a way forward.

Intriguingly, Kirkwood has chosen and unusual approach to a difficult topic. THE CHILDREN is, quite literally, a kitchen sink drama. It takes place in real time, and exposition is skillfully interwoven with present-day banter. Yet the apocalyptic world it portrays resembles is more reminiscent  of dystopian literature than naturalistic theater. The message is clear: yesterday’s sci fi is today’s concrete reality. The characters, both in their scripting and the nuanced performances of the cast, are not at all the scientists-as-socially-inept- brainiacs stereotypes. Refreshingly real, these people are more function like the rest of us, obsessing more over dinner and yoga than fusion theory.  So little hard science appears here, in fact, that the show’s lack of playwright-splaining may leave some viewers confused. If one plays close attention, though, definable features emerges of the coming Armageddon. Director James McDonald understands this balance of the quotidian with the apocalyptic, and keeps the action grounded in the rituals of daily life. Set and costume designer Miriam Buether frames the play in a universe that is both recognizable and unsettlingly odd. Lighting designer Peter Mumford chillingly evokes an encroaching darkness which must, one way of another, be reckoned with.

THE CHILDREN continues through February 28, 2018 at The Samuel J. Friedman Theater,  261 West 47th Street (between Broadway & 8th Ave.) Tickets:  https://www.telecharge.com/Broadway/The-Children/Ticket

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