Perhaps it’s our collective mood that has brought on a slew of dystopian dramas. Certainly the catastrophe that prompts the events covered in Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children isn’t novel. The facts of “the accident” in question are based on those that actually transpired in Japan just a few years ago. What is fresh is the way in which Kirkwood all but ignores the usual condemnation of nuclear power and instead uses the localized event to explore bigger and more human issues including the responsibility of each generation to the next and what comprises a well-lived life. Then she sprinkles in enough humor and love in its many forms to prevent the discussion from becoming soul-crushing.
To be honest, if the invitation to this production had announced that Francesca Annis, Ron Cook, and Deborah Findlay were coming to town to read American Greetings cards at my local Duane Reade, I still would have bought a ticket. I know all three primarily from their television work (any other Reckless fans out there?) and wanted the opportunity to see them live. The quality of the acting did not disappoint. There is a lived-in feel to all three performances that is not only a delight to experience, but essential to making the story’s ending believable.
The character set-up is as deceptively simple as the situation. Annis’s Rose has come to see Findlay’s Hazel and Cook’s Robin, a couple of retired physicists with whom she worked over 30 years ago. These three supposed old friends obviously have serious catching up to do, and from the subtle undertones it’s clearly not just about Hazel and Robin’s biological children. It is slightly disappointing that the playwright cannot come up with anything more original than off-stage phone calls to get characters out of the room when necessary, but this can be overlooked given the overall strength of the writing and its interpretation by a seasoned cast.
The behind-the-scenes team is equally sophisticated and deft in their approach to the material. Director James Macdonald provides his talent with purposeful “business” that keeps the play from feeling talky while revealing subtleties about the characters. His job is made easier by a brilliant, askew set conceived by multiple award winner Miriam Buether. Buether also created the everywhere-and-nowhere costumes. Peter Mumford’s disquieting lighting and projection designs add just enough menace to the atmosphere to hint at what lies beyond the slightly claustrophobic kitchen that we see. The three players are confined, at least for the moment.
The Children is a play you simply cannot leave behind you. The questions it poses and feelings it prods are too profound and intertwined in our everyday practices. If that sounds enticing rather than overwhelming, get ye to The Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Tickets are on sale through February 4, 2018, at http://thechildrenbroadway.com.